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Jefferson at 78. 


(Jefferson gave sittings to Sully at Monticello in 1821.) 

Courtesy of the United States Military Academy, West Point, Nezu York 



A Treasury of Writings About Thomas Jefferson 


Illustrated with Fifteen Life Portraits of Jefferson 

s T-I a s 2 


New York, 1953 

Copyright 1953, by E. P. Dutton 6- Co., Inc. 
All rights reserved. Printed in the U. S. A. 


1 No part of this book may be reproduced 
in any form without permission in writing 
from the publisher, except by a reviewer 
who wishes to quote brief passages in con- 
nection with a review written for inclusion in 
magazine or newspaper or radio broadcast. 



Introduction 11 

Thomas Jefferson Still Survives' 23 



Reminiscences of Jefferson in 1773 29 


A Visit to MonticeUo in 17S2 33 


A Dinner With Mr. Jefferson in Paris 39 


A Visit to Monticello in 1796 41 


A Visit to Monticello in 1796 54 


Reminiscences of President Jefferson 57 


Dinner With President Jefferson 60 


My Grandfather, Mr. Jefferson 62 


Recollections of Jefferson's Overseer at Monticello . . 67 


Recollections of a Monticello Slave 74 



Two Proper Young Bostonians Visit Jefferson in 1815 . 76 


Two Proper Young Bostonians Visit Jefferson in 1815 . 81 


A Visit to Monticello in 1817 86 


A Visit to Monticello in 1824 89 


A Visit to Monticello in 1825 91 


The People's Friend 97 


Jefferson and Liberty 99 


From The Embargo 102 


A Satire on Mr. Jefferson's Day 103 




An Attack on the President's Character 109 


"What the Name o Nero Was to Rome . . ." . . . . 112 


On Defamation 113 




Thomas Jefferson, Attorney at Law 117 


Thomas Jefferson as a Writer 131 


Thomas Jefferson as a Classical Scholar 140 


Thomas Jefferson and Science 149 


Thomas Jefferson and Religion 161 


Thomas Jefferson as a Traveler 168 


Thomas Jefferson, Soil Conservationist 184 


Thomas Jefferson and the Arts 193 


Thomas Jefferson and the Democratic Faith . . . 208 


The Death of Jefferson 221 


On the Father of Liberty 225 


Monticello 226 


Brave New World 228 


Jefferson 231 



"The Principles of Jefferson are the Definitions and 

Axioms of Free Society" 235 


What Jefferson Would Do 238 


Jefferson and the Bill of Rights 243 


"A Debt Long Overdue ..." 246 


"The Proud Consolation That Such A Man Has Lived" . 251 


"I Cannot Reckon Jefferson Among the Benefactors of 

Mankind" 260 


"After All Deductions . . ." 264 


The Return of a Virginian 267 


The Earth Belongs to the Living 281 


A Peppercorn for Mr. Jefferson 299 


Thomas Jefferson, The Gentle Radical 311 


Index of Authors 349 


JEFFERSON AT 78. Large full length by Thomas Sully Frontispiece 

Facing page 

JEFFERSON AT 43. Portrait by Mather Brown 32 

JEFFERSON AT 44. Detail from the Declaration of Independ- 
ence by John Trumbull 33 

JEFFERSON AT 44. Miniature by John Trumbull .... 64 

JEFFERSON AT 46. Bust by Jean Antoine Houdon .... 65 

JEFFERSON AT 46. Profile drawing by Edme Quenedey , . 96 

JEFFERSON AT 48. Bust by Giuseppe Ceracchi 97 

JEFFERSON AT 59. Drawing by Benjamin Henry Latrobe . . 160 

JEFFERSON AT 61. Profile drawing by Fevret de Saint Memin 161 

JEFFERSON AT 62. Portrait by Rembrandt Peale . . . . 192 

JEFFERSON AT 62. Portrait by Gilbert Stuart 193 

JEFFERSON AT 62. Profile medallion by Gilbert Stuart . . . 224 

JEFFERSON AT 75 Bust by William John Coffee 225 

JEFFERSON AT 78. Portrait by Thomas Sully 256 

JEFFERSON AT 82. Life mask by John H. I. Browere . . . 257 



In his History of the United States, which is not notable for any 
partiality for Jefferson, Henry Adams wrote with a perception which 
warrants its frequent quotation: "Almost every other American states- 
man might be described in a parenthesis. A few broad strokes of the 
brush would paint the portrait of all the early presidents with this 
exception . . . Jefferson could be painted only touch by touch, with 
a fine pencil." 

This is true, but more: no one pencil has wholly succeeded in 
presenting a complete or final portrait. There is for Jefferson, perhaps 
more than for any other great American, justification for a volume 
such as this: an anthology which brings together what many writers, 
with their various points of view and abilities, have had to say. Jef- 
ferson, in Paris in 1789, caught up in his admiration for a great drafts- 
man, wrote: "I do not feel an interest in any pencil but that of David." 
But for Jefferson himself there has been no single David to the ex- 
clusion of all others. 

If such a volume as this is well worth doing, I am not unmindful 
of the difficulties of doing it well. Any anthology must stand or fall 
upon the sense of selectivity which it exhibits. The more abundant 
the choices the more demanding is the editor's work. I have, off and 
on, been reading about Mr. Jefferson since my student years at the 
University of Virginia. But to read with the thought of choosing one 
selection above another, and to choose those which may be brought 


12 Introduction 

together to make a volume of some balance and proportion, is a rather 
different matter. A wiser man than I would have hesitated to make 
the attempt. I had not long been at the task when I realized full well 
why no such volume has before been published. 

This is not to suggest that I have looked into, or even know of the 
existence, of all the writing about Jefferson. Such a disclaimer is quite 
unnecessary for the reader who knows the field. The total amount of 
writing about Jefferson is staggeringly large. There is not in existence 
anything like a complete bibliography. More than ten years ago, in 
an engaging paper on Some Aspects of Jefferson Bibliography, Wil- 
liam Peden wrote: "Only the barest preliminary steps have been 
taken in the publication of Jefferson bibliographies. . . . Nor can I 
believe that there will be a successful attempt in this generation to 
issue a general bibliographical work on Jefferson. ... Of writing 
about Jefferson it has been estimated that it would take ten years 
simply to assemble the materials for a bibliography and another five 
to digest them. Men like Chinard and Malone and perhaps a dozen 
others would have the ability to accomplish this, but I doubt that 
any of them would have the patience/' No one has yet come forward 
to prove Mr. Peden wrong. 

What I have hoped to accomplish here is to bring together, within 
the limits of a single volume of manageable size, and with some atten- 
tion to a balance between the undeservedly little-known and the 
deservedly well-known, a selection of the more readable and illu- 
minating writing about Jefferson from his own time to the present. 
In number of authors, I have allotted the lion's share to the reports 
and reminiscences of those who had the great good fortune to know 
or visit Jefferson in life. In number of pages, I have given it to later 
writers who, in an age of specialization, have written ably on one 
aspect or another of the many-sided Jefferson. Poems are included, 
and political comment, and a taste of contemporary calumny, and 
evaluations of Jefferson's life by various hands through the years. 


It may be well to state one thing which this book does not attempt 
to be. It is not a composite biography of Jefferson. Such a volume 
could, assuredly, be assembled. There have been many biographies 

Introduction 13 

of Jefferson since the first, by George Tucker, Professor of Moral 
Philosophy at the University of Virginia, appeared in 1837. The card 
catalogue of the Library of Congress contains some four hundred 
entries with Jefferson as the subject. Among a number of worthy 
biographies have been those by James Parton (1874), John T. Morse 
(1883), David S. Muzzey (1918), Albert J. Nock (1926), Francis 
Hirst (1926), Claude Bowers (1925, 1936, 1945), Gilbert Chinard 
(1929), Saul Padover (1942), and Nathan Schachner (1951). 

The piecing together of a composite biography, however, has 
particular point and reason only where one biographer and another 
have written with especial insight about one period and another of 
a great man's life. Paul M. Angle has edited an admirable composite 
narrative of this sort in The Lincoln Reader and Stanley F. Horn has 
in The Robert E. Lee Reader. But such a volume for Jefferson would 
be less rewarding than for Lincoln or for Lee. Jefferson biography 
has been a thing of mountains and valleys, or one mountain and 
valleys. The great monument for nearly a hundred years has been 
The Life of Thomas Jefferson by Henry S. Randall, published in 1858. 
For all of its belonging to the nineteenth century, and to the ante- 
bellum nineteenth century, it has been to Randall that the reader must 
go for the most thorough and satisfactory narrative of Jefferson's life. 

Subsequent biographers, providing their own interpretations, have 
relied heavily upon Randall for the facts. It has not been until the 
immediate present that the work of Jefferson biography has been 
undertaken afresh on a comparable scale. Randall is now being 
matched by two modern multi-volume biographies of Jefferson, the 
works in progress by Marie Kimball and Dumas Malone. Three vol- 
umes of Marie KimbalFs biography have now appeared, carrying her 
account of Jefferson to the year 1789. Dumas Malone, in what prom- 
ises to be the finest biography of Jefferson, has now published two 
volumes of his projected five-volume, Jefferson and His Times. 

No, the volume in your hands does not undertake to be a com- 
posite biography of Jefferson. But if, for the narrative of Jefferson's 
life, there is no substitute for Randall, or for Malone for the years 
vhich Malone has covered, there is elsewhere immensely rich and 
rewarding writing about Jeffersonpresenting glimpses and aspects 
of him "touch by touch, with a fine pencil." The Jefferson Reader is 
an anthology of that writing. If a volume comparable in purpose 
should be sought on the shelf of Lincoln books, it would not be Paul 

14 Introduction 

M. Angle's The Lincoln Reader but more nearly Edward Wagen- 
knecht's anthology, Abraham Lincoln. In its approach to its subject, 
the Jefferson Reader is nearer still to the editor's own Virginia Reader: 
A Treasury of Writings from the First Voyages to the Present. 


After Henry Steele Commager's brief and admirable summary of 
Jefferson's importance today, which was published on the appear- 
ance of the first volume of the great Princeton project for a definitive 
edition of The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, I have begun with the 
first-hand accounts of those who knew Jefferson. The first of these is 
that of the Florentine Philip Mazzei, who saw Jefferson as a young 
man of thirty. (Mazzei erroneously makes him two years older in 
the reminiscences. ) The second, and far more valuable, is the excel- 
lent account by the Marquis de Chastellux of his visit to Monticello 
in 1782. Jefferson was then not quite forty "an American, who with- 
out ever having quitted his own country, is at once a musician, skilled 
in drawing, a geometrician, an astronomer, a natural philosopher, 
legislator, and statesman" and de Chastellux's is the earliest per- 
ceptive description of Jefferson and of the mansion which he was 
building on his Virginia mountaintop. And few, if any, writers have 
ever better described Jefferson in a sentence than de Chastellux does 
in his final words. 

A letter by Abigail Adams provides a fleeting glimpse of one of 
Jefferson's dinners in Paris, but regrettably says little of the host. 
The Due de la Rochefoucauld-Liancourt and the English visitor 
Isaac Weld, in their accounts of their travels in North America, give 
descriptions of their visits to Monticello in 1796 that of the Duke 
de la Rochefoucauld-Liancourt, full and detailed, an especially inter- 
esting one. Of Jefferson as President, there is perhaps no more en- 
gaging description than that of Margaret Bayard Smith; and the dour 
John Quincy Adams concedes to his diary "one of the agreeable 
dinners I have had at Mr. Jefferson's." 

A grandson of Thomas Jefferson, an overseer at Monticello, and 
one of Jefferson's slaves, each from his own point of vantage, have 
left descriptions and reminiscences which help us to see Mr. Jeffer- 
son more fully. When Jefferson retired from the Presidency, Monti- 
cello became the goal of innumerable visitors, invited and uninvited. 

Introduction 15 

Of those who put their impressions on paper, included here are the 
accounts of five: two young Bostonians s Francis Galley Gray and 
George Ticknor, in 1815; the English visitor Francis Hall in 1817; 
Daniel Webster in 1824; and Duke Bernhard of Saxe-Weirnar Eisen- 
ach the year before Jefferson's death. At eighty-two (the last visitor 
quoted here, like the first, gives Jefferson's age erroneously), Duke 
Bernhard found him, as they sat before the evening fire, lively in 
spirits and wide-ranging and enthusiastic in conversation: "one would 
have taken him for a man of sixty." 

Of the numerous popular political songs of Jefferson's day which 
had him as tixe subject and hero, I have chosen two of the most 
widely known: "The People's Friend 7 ' and "Jefferson and Liberty/* 
The excerpt from "The Embargo" by the youthful William Cullen 
Bryant (which forecast the later Bryant's poetic abilities if not his 
political sentiments ) is a more competent than average example of 
the broadsides in verse which attacked the President; and the satire 
from The Port Folio on the President's day, it seems to me, reaches 
in places something very near to true wit, Few men in public life 
have ever been mare viciously assaulted than was President Jeffer- 
son and it has seemed proper to include a sample of the calumny in 
the selections from Callender and one of the Federalist newspapers. 
The texts here of "The People's Friend" and "Jefferson and Liberty" 
are as they appear in printed versions clipped and pasted in a Jef- 
ferson Scrapbook, which is now in the Alderman Library of the Uni- 
versity of Virginia. Jefferson wrote of the Scrapbook, in a letter to 
John Adams on February 25, 1823: "I was in the habit, also, while 
living apart from my family, of cutting out of the newspapers such 
morsels of poetry, or tales, as I thought would please, and of send- 
ing them to my grandchildren, who pasted them on leaves of blank 
paper and formed them into a book." As a morsel clipped by Jeffer- 
son, I Lave not resisted the temptation to include here one other 
item from the Scrapbook, the bit of verse, "On Defamation." 

To illuminate Jefferson's enormously wide-ranging interests I have 
chosen nine essays: the number might well have been very consider- 
ably extended. The paper by John W. Davis on Jefferson as an at- 
torney is marked with the scholarship and eloquence which have 
made Mr. Davis a leader of the bar of our own day. Until Edward 
Dumbauld gives us his promised book on Jefferson and the law> Mr. 
Davis's paper, which deserves better than to be left in a volume of 

16 Introduction 

bar association proceedings, is likely to remain the most thorough con- 
sideration of this aspect of Jefferson. 

Julian P. Boyd, in his introductory essay to the monumental and 
meticulously edited Princeton edition of The Papers of Thomas Jef- 
ferson, has provided one of the finest of commentaries on the signifi- 
cance of the heritage of Jefferson papers. A central point which Mr. 
Boyd makes, the purposefulness of Jefferson's inquiries and activities, 
is one which should by no means be missed. Gilbert Chinard's wise 
and felicitous "Thomas Jefferson as a Classical Scholar" is mellow 
scholarship at its best. Of Jefferson and science, a subject which has 
been considered in greater detail in the recent volume, Thomas Jef- 
ferson: Scientist by Edwin T. Martin, I have chosen the paper by the 
distinguished biologist, Austin H. Clark. The perceptive considera- 
tion of Jefferson and religion is from the first volume of Marie Kim- 
ball's biography, and to the passage Mrs. Kimball has generously 
made an addition to round it out for this anthology. I have included a 
long, but it seems to me all too brief, selection from Edward Dum- 
bauld's pioneering and engaging volume, Thomas Jeferson: Ameri- 
can Tourist. Hugh H. Bennett, America's most widely known soil 
conservationist, writes ably on Jefferson as a farmer and a friend of 
the land. One could hope, I think, for no more expert paper than 
Fiske KimbalTs "Jefferson and the Arts" or more eloquent one than 
John Dewey's "Thomas Jefferson and the Democratic Faith." 

Of later poems which take their inspiration from Jefferson I have 
included five. Hezekiah Butterworth's Victorian "The Death of 
Jefferson" belongs to a time whose tastes in rhetoric are not our 
tastes, but it has seemed to me to deserve a place here as a period 
piece if on no other grounds. There follows evocative work by four 
distinguished American poets of the present day: Allen Tate's epi- 
grammatic "On the Father of Liberty," which here appears in book 
form for the first time, and moving poems by Lawrence Lee, Archi- 
bald MacLeish, and Karl Shapiro. 

In the selection of comments by specifically political figures on 
Jefferson and his significance, and of such comments there is a great 
abundance, I have been severe, limiting the number to four. Abraham 
Lincoln's letter of June 6, 1859, which might have been a routine note 
declining an invitation to speak, is, it seems to me, one of the great 
statements on Jeffersonian principles. The other three Presidential 

Introduction 17 

opinions, the Woodrow Wilson address of 1912, Herbert Hoover on 
Jefferson and the Bill of Rights, and Franklin D. Roosevelt's brief and 
memorable address at the dedication of the Jefferson Memorial in 
Washington, are each of them more than ephemeral political com- 

The final section of the anthology, for which there was a very wide 
range of choices, presented very hard decisions. I am altogether sat- 
isfied with the inclusion of each of the seven selections which are 
here, but I am less than satisfied with the exclusion of the many which 
might well be here. The estimate of Jefferson in Nicholas Biddle's 
Eulogium, delivered before the American Philosophical Society in 
1827, is of all that I have seen the finest of the many tributes to Jeffer- 
son which followed his death. Lord Macaulay's letter, rightly seeing 
that the principles of Jefferson are the foundations of democratic 
society, but damning both, is an item of very great interest, and I am 
grateful to Lyman H. Butterfield except for whom it would not have 
come to my attention. Henry Adams' judicious weighing of the qual- 
ities of Jefferson, with his grudging admiration, is a selection which 
could not be omitted. "The Return of a Virginian" is a fine passage, 
and one well calculated to stand alone, from Dumas Malone's master- 
ly biography in progress. Adrienne Koch's "The Earth Belongs to 
the Living," revised by Miss Koch for this anthology from her Jeffer- 
son and Madison: The Great Collaboration., and Bernard Mayo's "A 
Peppercorn for Mr. Jefferson," are valuable and engaging papers. 
Dixon Wecter's "Thomas Jefferson, the Gentle Radical," the essay 
with which I bring this anthology to a close, is one of the very finest 
general discussions of Jefferson of which I know. 


If I should list the selections which might have been included here, 
this Introduction would exceed all practicable limits. But in the hope 
that this anthology may whet rather than slake an interest in Jeffer- 
son, a few guideposts to further reading may be put up. Another re- 
warding account of a visit to Monticello was left by the British diplo- 
mat, Sir Augustus John Foster, and appears in the extracts from his 
"Notes on the United States," edited by Margaret Bailey Tinkcom, 

IS Introduction 

In the January 1951 Issue of the William and Mary Quarterly, Thomas 
Moore's satirical comment In verse on Jefferson and the District o 
Columbia might have been Included, but die reader lias its flavor 
and the most biting lines in the quotation Included in Dixon Wee- 
ter's essay here. The two poems are readily available (Moore's Poet- 
ical Works, Boston, 1856, II, 75, 82; and later editions). The reader 
who lias especially enjoyed Gilbert Chinard's paper here will find 
Thomas Jefferson: American Humanist by Karl Lehmann (1947) a 
highly rewarding volume. The reader who has found particular inter- 
est in Marie KimbalTs discussion of Jefferson and religion will want to 
read Henry Wilder Footers able introduction to his edition of Jeffer- 
son's The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth Extracted Textually 
from the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John ( 1951 ) . Jefferson 
the bookman, an aspect of Jefferson which is not the chief concern of 
any one of the essays here, Is the subject of Randolph G. Adams' excel- 
lent "Thomas Jefferson: Librarian" In his volume Three Americanists 
( 1939 ) . To add to the sheaf of modem poems on Jefferson, the reader 
may seelc out Gamaliel Bradford's "Thomas Jefferson' 5 and his "Ode to 
Thomas Jefferson/' Rosemary and Stephen Vincent Benet's "Thomas 
Jefferson," Ruth H. Hausman's "Monticello," and Lawrence Lee's fine 
"The Tomb of Thomas Jefferson." The reader who has found the selec- 
tion of comments by political figures too brief may continue in the 
books by Senator John Sharp Williams ( 1913 ) and Senator Elbert 
Thomas (1942) and in the papers and addresses of Daniel Webster 
(address of August 2, 1826) , Grover Cleveland ( address of April 27 7 
1889), William Jennings Bryan (The North American Review, June 
1889 ) , and Harry S. Truman ( accepting the first volume of The Papers 
of Thomas Jefferson, May 17 3 1950). Two special Jefferson issues of 
periodicals will repay the reader's examination, the Spring 1943 issue 
The Virginia Quarterly Review and the July 14, 1943 issue of the Pr o- 
ceedings of the American Philosophical Society. Of recent periodical 
articles there are none better than 'The Agrarian Democracy of 
Thomas Jefferson" by A. Whitney Griswold in the August 1946 Ameri- 
can Political Science Review and "The Reconciliation of Adams and 
Jefferson" by Lyman H. Butterfield in the Winter 1951 Jale Review. 
A provocative discussion of the personalities of Jefferson and Hamil- 
ton is contained In Gerald W. Johnson's American Heroes and Hero- 
Worship (1943-). The text of Sidney Kingsley's stirring play, The 
Patriots, originally entitled Jefferson, is available as a book (1943). 

Introduction 19 

An entertaining imaginary dinner with Mr. Jefferson is included in 
Van Loons Lives by Hendrik Willem Van Loon (1942). 

What Jefferson's actual appearance was is a fascinating matter. I 
am grateful for the generosity of the publishers in permitting the 
reproduction here of fifteen lif e portraits of Jefferson, bringing them 
together for the first time in one book. For a careful discussion of 
Jefferson portraiture the interested reader should go to Fiske Kim- 
balTs "The Life Portraits of Jefferson and Their Replicas" (in the 
Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society., December 28, 
1944). Two of the life portraits reproduced in this anthology have 
come to light since the appearance of Mr. KimbalTs article, the bust 
by John Coffee ( discussed by Anna Wells Rutledge in the Gazette 
des Beaux- Arts, November 1945) and the profile by Edme Quenedey 
( discussed by Howard C. Rice, Jr., in the William and Mary Quar- 
terly, January 1949 ) . Rounding up copies of the fifteen portraits with 
permission to reproduce them was something more of a chore than I 
had anticipated, and I am grateful to all those who co-operated in 
the matter. Specific acknowledgments accompany each of the illus- 

With the Jefferson Reader, as with the earlier Virginia Reader, I 
owe a debt of gratitude to the publishers for their patience and 
understanding. I am especially Indebted to Mr. Nicholas Wreden 
and Miss Louise Townsend Nicholl for their enthusiasm for Mr. 
Jefferson and for this anthology. 

Fairfax County, Virginia 




Jefferson is the central figure in American history and if freedom and 
democracy survive in our generation he may yet prove to be the 
central figure in modem history. He was not only one of the Founding 
Fathers, the source and inspiration of much of American democracy 
and of American nationalism; he was, too, a world figure. Certainly 
no other public man contributed so richly to so many chapters in 
modern history. 

He was, of all the Founding Fathers, indeed of all the men of the 
eighteenth century, the most contemporary. Both in his public and 
his private life he addressed himself continuously to problems of 
permanent and universal interest. What he wrote and what he did 
about the nature of society and of government, the relations of man 
to government, the meaning of republicanism and democracy, the 
significance of education and of toleration and of experimentation 
to democracy is as relevant today as it was in the eighteenth century. 
It is, notwithstanding profound changes in politics and economy, as 
relevant for France and Germany and Italy as it was for the young 
United States. 

Nor has any other American revealed himself or illuminated the 
history of his age more fully in his writings. Even his public writings 
constitute a record of incomparable importance: imagine our history 
without the Declaration of Independence, the Virginia Statute of Re- 
ligious Freedom, the Ordinance of 1784, the Bill for the Diffusion of 
Knowledge, the Kentucky Resolutions, the First Inaugural Address, 
the Louisiana Treaty. 

These, however, represent only a small part of Jefferson's total 
contribution to our history. His writings are essential, too, for an 

Copyright 1950 by the New York Times Company. Reprinted by permission 
of the New York Times Company and Henry Steele Commager. 



understanding of many tilings which he did not himself create or 
sponsor. Thus, for example, the Northwest Ordinance, the Bill of 
Rights, the Virginia Constitution* the Monroe Doctrine; thus, too, 
such institutions or movements as die political party, the attack on 
slavery, the role of the judiciary in our constitutional system, and a 
variety of humanitarian and reform movements. 

When to all this are added private writings on almost every aspect 
of American society and culture, and correspondence (a correspon- 
dence singularly elevated and felicitous, with hundreds of public 
men at home and abroad), we can see that Jefferson furnished both 
the soil and the seed from which many of our national institutions 

No one has yet exhausted the richness of that mind, a mind in many 
respects the most interesting of modern times. Jefferson's versatility 
is by now a familiar, almost a hackneyed, subject He was a scientist 
and an inventor; he was the greatest American architect of his day; 
he was a fanner, experimenting endlessly with crops and stock; he 
was a man of letters; he was a bibliophile, collecting not one but two 
of the greatest private libraries in the country; he was something of 
a philologist; he was a student of the classics as who was not in that 
age and of the Bible, compiling his own for good measure; he was 
a lawyer and a collector of law reports. 

Also, he was something of a musician, playing the fiddle and col- 
lecting music and musicians; he was the first great educational states- 
man, not only the founder of the University of Virginia but the sponsor 
of far-reaching educational reforms; he was a horticulturist, and his 
garden book has permanent value. What was he not? Even in an 
age of versatility his catholic interests are a matter of perpetual 

Fortunately he was, too, an indefatigable letter-writer. His famous 
epistolary record runs to over six hundred closely written pages. Nor 
were his letters merely the hasty scrawls of a hurried man; many of 
them were minor treatises on. politics or law or religion or education 
or philosophy. 

How he found time for it all, even in a life of eighty-three years, is 
one of the mysteries of history; perhaps it was that he was untroubled 
by modern labor-saving devices and innocent of those squads o sec- 
retaries with which every modern statesman and business man sur- 
rounds himself. 

'Th omas Jefferson Still Survives 9 25 

Nor were all these interests, so richly revealed in his writings, the 
expression of dilettantism. It was said of one of the Lord Chancellors 
of England that if only he knew a little law he would know a little 
of everything. That could not be said of Thomas Jefferson. He 
was curious about almost everything, but his curiosity was rarely 

Whatever he learned, whatever he knew, fitted into and enriched 
his philosophy. For of all American statesmen, Jefferson was the most 
philosophical. One abiding purpose runs through his whole life, one 
pervasive philosophy dominates it. He insisted that man should be 
free and he was persuaded that, once free, mankind would progress 
toward happiness and virtue. He was enraptured with the vision of 
mankind free from political tyranny, from the bondage of superstition 
and of ignorance, from the sins of the past, from poverty, from war. 
He had an eighteenth-century faith in the perfectibility of man, but 
it was not merely a visionary faith; it was faith rooted in the reahty 
of New World experience. 

For here in the New World mankind had been given a new chance- 
mankind free from the tyrannies and oppressions, the poverty and 
ignorance of the Old World. Here men could live close to nature, 
cultivate the soil, raise large families., keep what they earned, benefit 
from learning and from science, escape war, advanceas was said in 
the great First Inaugural Address "rapidly to destinies beyond the 
reach of mortal eye." 

And as America was to be a model for the world, to prove what 
man was capable of when free, Jefferson devoted himself passionately 
to strengthening this nation, expanding its territory, building up its 
resources, maintaining its security, fostering its culture and its virtue. 
The first strokes of his mature pen were a call for freedom; his last 
written words recalled that earlier faith. 

It is eminently fitting that "The Papers of Thomas Jefferson" should 
be launched as a national enterprise. All who cherish American tra- 
ditions, all who are zealous for the maintenance of freedom and 
democracy in the world, all who retain their faith in reason and 
morality, will rejoice at this reaffirmation of devotion to the principles 
to which Jefferson dedicated his life. "Thomas Jefferson still survives," 
said John Adams on his deathbed; it was a prophecy which each 
generation must justify anew. 




I struck up a friendship with Franklin and, through him, with various 
other persons from the colonies, which now form the Republic of the 
United States. One of these persons was Mr. Thomas Adams, a Vir- 
ginian, who, being a close friend of Jefferson, made it possible for 
Mr. Jefferson and me to know a great deal about each other some 
years before we actually met 

Having procured everything I wished to take with me from Flor- 
ence to Virginia, I sent it all ahead to Leghorn in a stout barge, with 
Vincenzo in charge. When I reached Leghorn myself, I found the 
farmers from Lucca and Genoa and the tailor from Piedmont waiting 
for me. After purchasing provisions there too, I said good-by to my 
friends and relatives. I took with me enough pesos duros not only to 
support me for a reasonable length of time, but also to enable me to 
undertake some business project after my arrival, since I did not 
wish to risk any money until after I had arrived on the spot and had 
studied the best course to follow. I finally set sail on September 2, 
arriving in Virginia toward the end of November, 1773. . . . 

We arrived off capes Henry and Charles one morning before dawn, 
and soon a coastal pilot came on board. From him I learned that the 
Assembly of the colony was still in session at Williamsburg, but that 
it was about to conclude its business. I knew that Williamsburg was 
not far from the James River. The pilot told me that between the 
river and the city was the home of Mr. Eppes, where I could rest. 
We were about forty miles away, but the wind and tide were in our 
favor, so that we soon arrived. Mr. Eppes's house was about four 
miles from the river and as far from Williamsburg. The pilot had his 
cabin boy accompany me there. Everyone was at table having lunch. 
I took nothing, as I had already eaten. Mr. Thomas Adams, Mr, 
Thomas Jefferson, and Mr. Samuel Griffin had already spoken of iny 

From Memoirs of the Life and Peregrinations of the Florentine Philip 
Mazzei, 1730-1816, translated by Howard R. Marraro. Copyright 1942 by 
Columbia University Press, New York, Reprinted by permission. 



approaching arrival to several persons, among them Mr. Eppes, 
whose wife was Jefferson's sister-in-law. . . . 

Williamsburg might really be called a township rather than a city, 
although the governor's palace, the Assembly Hall, the college, and 
the court were located there, and all the deputies of the colony lived 
there when the Assembly was in session. There were many persons 
in the capital when 1 arrived, because of the session, which, however, 
ended that same day. Several deputies, who were getting ready to 
leave, stayed a day longer to meet their new countryman, of whom 
Mr. Thomas Adams had already spoken too favorably. 

Before the latter's arrival, two other persons had come to bid me 
welcome. The first was Mr. George Washington, who later distin- 
guished himself through his command of the American Army during 
the Revolutionary War, which gave birth to the Republic of the 
United States, of which he later became the first president. The other 
was Air. George Wythe, Jefferson's legal preceptor, a resident of 
Williamsburg, and one of the greatest personalities the world has ever 
produced, eminent in law, and a former teacher of Mr. Jefferson. Mr. 
Adams called the attention of several persons to the fact that I had 
undertaken to ship a large supply of grain back to Leghorn, to which 
port no Virginian ship had ever sailed. . . . 

I had told Mr. Adams, before his departure from England, the 
land of soil required for planting vines. He had obtained 5,000 acres 
of land for me from the Assembly. But I could not accept this prop- 
erty, as it was divided into many parcels, at some distance from one 

Mr. Adams tad sold the house where he lived and its furnishings 
and had bought property of greater extent about 160 miles north of 
Williamsburg, in Augusta County, and about 20 miles from the Blue 
Ridge Mountains, so called by the first European emigrants because 
from a distance the atmosphere surrounding them appears to be of 
that color an effect which occurs elsewhere also. These mountains 
separate Augusta County from Albemarle County, where Mr. Jeffer- 
son resides, some 20 miles from the' mountains. 

I set out with Mr. Adams to visit his new property. He wished to 
look around, to see where it would be best for him to build a house, 
and I wanted to see whether I could buy a parcel of land near his, 
if the location suited me. We agreed to spend two or three days with 
Mr. Jefferson on our way. 

Reminiscences of Jefferson in 1773 31 

Mr. Jefferson was thirty-two years old, that is, eleven years younger 
than I. He had married a widow, twenty-three years of age, and they 
had a little girl only a few months old. We arrived in the evening, and 
the following morning, while the others were still asleep, Jefferson 
and I went to take a walk in the neighborhood. He took me to the 
house of a poor man, who owned a cabin and about 400 acres of 
land, which bordered on his own, and of which about one-eighth had 
been deforested and cultivated.* The man wanted to sell the place, 
because he had several children and, by going inland about 100 miles, 
he could buy, with half of the sale price, a tract of land large enough 
to enable him to leave more than 400 acres to each of his sons. I 
decided to purchase the place he had for sale. 

The cabin was more than large enough for the farmers I had 
brought with me. It was on a small plain, with higher land on two 
sides. On one side the land was level, while on the other, which was 
much longer and higher, formed a hill, on which we decided I could 
have a frame house built for myself. As Mr. Jefferson's estate was 
adjacent to tibiis property and as he had much more land than he 
needed, he said he would give me a tract of about 2,000 acres. He 
had other estates in an adjoining county. Every year he sold the 
produce of the land, over and above what he needed for his own 
consumption and that of his household, receiving about 2,000 for it. 

By the time we returned home, everyone was up. Looking at Mr. 
Jefferson, Mr. Adams said, "I see by your expression that youVe taken 
him away from me. I knew you would do that." Jefferson smiled, 
without looking at him, but, staring at the table, said: "Let's have 
breakfast first and then we'll see what we can do." 

After breakfast, he dispatched a man with a letter to Mr. Eppes, 
his brother-in-law, asking him to send on my men and the effects I 
had listed in a note he enclosed. He also asked him to tell Mrs. Martin 
that after the arrival of the men and our belongings, Mr. Adams and 
I would go to get her and her daughter. 

Mr. Adams left at once for Augusta and had not yet returned when 
my men arrived. Jefferson understood the Tuscan language very well, 
but he had never heard it spoken. Nevertheless, he could converse 
with my men in Italian, and they were so pleased by the fact that 
he could understand them that I was touched. Among his slaves, 

* Over there, a poor man is one who is forced to till his land himself, since 
he is not in a position to buy slaves. 


there were many skilled workmen of all trades, but no tailors. As soon 
as he saw our spades and bill hooks, he ordered some made for use 
on all Ms estates. Pie liked our hunting coat, and adopted it too. The 
neighbors imitated him, with the result that it became very popular. 
This was advantageous for the tailor, since, in accordance with our 
agreement, he was required to work for me and my group, and in 
return I was to supply him with all his needs. But he alone was to 
profit from all the other work he did. 

While I awaited Mr. Adams, I put my men to work on deforesting 
the land, from the tilled part of the property to a point beyond the 
hill on which I wished to build my house. To speed the work, I 
hired two strong Negroes. In this task of deforestation, I did not follow 
the custom of the country. As a measure of economy of labor, instead 
of uprooting the trees and cutting them out well underground, they 
had them cut so much above ground that a woodsman did not have 
to bend over at all to apply his axe. The landowners who were 
required to do all this work themselves did not cut the trees down at 
all, but merely removed about six inches of bark all the way round, 
which caused the trees to dry out and, after many years, to fall. 

I continued clearing my land for four winters, engaging more men 
every year. From the windows of my home and from those of Mr. 
Jefferson's, I was spared the ugly sight of withered trees, which 
looked like skeletons, and of stumps of trees standing three feet above 
the ground, because, since the neighborhood had been under culti- 
vation for more than half a century, they had rotted away. . . . 

Jefferson at 43. 


(Earliest portrait of Jefferson. Replica, painted by Brown for 
John Adams, of the lost original which belonged to Jefferson.) 

Courtesy of Hon. Charles Francis Adams, Boston, and the 
Frick Art Reference Library, New York 

Jefferson at 44. 


Courtesy of the Yale University Art Galh'iy, New Haven 


From the moment the French troops were established in the quarters 
they occupied in Virginia, I formed the project of travelling into the 
upper parts of that province, where I was assured that I should find 
objects worthy of exciting the curiosity of a stranger; and faithful to 
the principles, which from my youth I had lain down, never to neglect 
seeing every country in my power, I burned with impatience to set 
out. The season however, was unfavourable, and rendered travelling 
difficult and laborious; besides, experience taught me that travelling 
in winter never offered the greatest satisfaction we can enjoy; that 
of seeing nature, such as she ought to be, and of forming a just idea 
of the general face of a country; for it is easier for the imagination to 
deprive a landscape of the charms of spring, than to clothe with them, 
the hideous skeleton of winter; as it is easier to imagine what a 
beauty at eighteen may be at eighty, than to conceive what eighty 
was at eighteen. Monsieur de Rochambeau being absent likewise 
during the month of February, and Monsieur la Chevalier de la Lu- 
zerne having chosen the month of March to pay us a visit, politeness 
and my duty obliged me to wait till April, before I could begin my 
travels. On the 8th of that month I set out with Mr. Lynch, then my 
aid-de-camp and Adjutant, now General; Mr. Frank Dillon, my sec- 
ond aid-de-camp, and Mr. le Chevalier d'Oyre of the engineers: six 
servants and a led horse composed our train; so that our little caravan 
consisted of four masters, six servants, and eleven horses. I regulated 
my journey by the spring, and gave it time sufficient to precede us. 
For though in the 37th degree of latitude, one might expect to find 
it in the month of April, I saw no trace of it in the wood through 

From Travels in North- America, in the Years 1780 -81 -82, by the Marquis 
de Chastellux, one of the forty members of the French Academy, and Major- 
General in the French Army, serving under the Count de Rochambeau. Trans- 
lated from the French, by an English Gentleman, who resided in America at that 
period. . . . New York, 1827. 



which we passed; the verdure being hardly discoverable on the thorns, 
the sun notwithstanding was very ardent, and I regretted to find 
summer in the heavens, whilst the earth afforded not the smallest 
appearance of the spring. The eighteen miles through which we 
passed, before we baited our horses at Bird's tavern, were sufficiently 
known to me, for it was the same road I travelled last summer in 
coming from Williarosburgh. The remaining sixteen, which completed 
our day's work and brought us to New-Kent court-house, offered 
nothing curious; all I learnt by a conversation with Mr. Bird was, that 
he had been pillaged by the English when they passed his house in 
their inarch to Westover, in pursuit of Monsieur de la Fayette, and 
in returning to Williamsburgh, after endeavouring in vain to come up 
with him. It was comparatively nothing to see their fruits, fowls and 
cattle carried away by the light troops which formed the vanguard, 
the army collected what the vanguard had left, even the officers seized 
the rum, and all kinds of provisions, without paying a farthing for 
them; this hurricane which destroyed every thing in its passage, was 
followed by a scourge yet more terrible, a numerous rabble, under 
the title of Refugees and Loyalists, followed the army, not to assist 
in the field, but to partake of the plunder. . . . 

The night was already closed in, when we arrived at the house of 
Colonel Boswell, a tall, stout Scotsman, about sixty years of age, and 
who had been about forty years settled in America, where, under the 
English government, he was a colonel of militia. Although he kept a 
kind of tavern, he appeared but little prepared to receive strangers. 
It was already late indeed, besides that this road, which leads only 
to the mountains, is little frequented, He was quietly seated near the 
fire, by the side of his wife, as old, and almost as tall as himself, whom 
he distinguished by the epithet of "honey," which in French corre- 
sponds with mon petit coeur. These honest people received us cheer- 
fully, and soon called up their servants, who were already gone to 
bed. Whilst they were preparing supper, we often heard them call 
Rose, Rose, which at length brought to view the most hideous negress 
I ever beheld. Our supper was rather scanty, but our breakfast the 
next morning better; we had ham, butter, fresh eggs, and coffee by 
way of drink: for the whiskey or corn-spirits we had in the evening, 

A Visit to Monticello in 1782 35 

mixt with water, was very bad; besides that we were perfectly recon- 
ciled to the American custom of drinking coffee with meat, vegetables, 
or other food. 

We set out the next morning at eight o'clock, having learned noth- 
ing in this house worthy of remark, except that notwithstanding the 
hale and robust appearance of Mr. and Mrs. Boswell, not one of 
fourteen of their children had attained the age of ten years. We were 
now approaching a chain of mountains of considerable height, called 
the South- West Mountains, because they are the first you meet in 
travelling westward, before you arrive at the chain known in France 
by the name of the Apalachians, and in Virginia by that of the Blue 
Ridge, North Ridge, and Allegany Mountains. As the country was 
much covered with woods, we had a view of them but very seldom; 
and travelled a long time without seeing any habitation, at times 
greatly perplexed to choose among the different roads, which crossed 
each other. At last we overtook a traveller who preceded us, and 
served not only as guide, but by his company helped to abridge our 
journey. He was an Irishman, who though but lately arrived in 
America, had made several campaigns, and received a considerable 
wound in his thigh by a musket ball; which, though it could never be 
extracted, had not in the least affected either his health or gaiety. He 
related his military exploits, and we inquired immediately about the 
country which he then inhabited. He acquainted us that he was settled 
in North-Carolina, upwards of eighty miles from Catawbaw, and 
were then 300 from the sea. These new establishments are so much 
the more interesting, as by their distance from all commerce, agricul- 
ture is their sole resource; I mean that patriarchal agriculture which 
consists in producing only what is sufficient for their own consump- 
tion, without the hope of either sale or barter. These colonies there- 
fore must necessarily be rendered equal to all their wants. It is easy to 
conceive that there is soon no deficiency of food, but it is also neces- 
sary that their flocks and their fields should furnish them with clothing, 
they must manufacture their own wool, and flax, into clothes and linen, 
they must prepare the hides to make shoes of them, &c. &c.; as to 
drink, they are obliged to content themselves with milk and water, 
until their apple-trees are large enough to bear fruit, or until they 
have been able to procure themselves stills, to distil their grain. In 
these troublesome times we should scarcely imagine in Europe, that 
nails are the articles the most wanted in these new colonies: for the 


axe and the saw can supply every other want. They contrive however 
to erect huts, and construct roofs without nails ; but the work is by 
this means rendered much more tedious, and in such circumstances 
every body knows the value of time and labour. It was a natural 
question to ask such a cultivator what could bring him four hundred 
miles from home, and we learned from him that he carried on the 
trade of horse selling, the only commerce of which his country was 
susceptible, and by which people in the most easy circumstances 
endeavoured to augment their fortunes. In fact these animals multiply 
very fast in a country where there is abundant pasture; and as they are 
conducted without any expense, by grazing on the road, they become 
the most commodious article of exportation, for a country so far from 
any road or commerce. The conversation continued and brought us 
insensibly to the foot of the mountains. On the summit of one of 
them we discovered the house of Mr. Jefferson, which stands pre- 
eminent in these retirements; it was himself who built it and preferred 
this situation; for although he possessed considerable property in the 
neighbourhood, there was nothing to prevent him from fixing his 
residence wherever he thought proper. But it was a debt nature owed 
to a philosopher and a man of taste, that in his own possessions he 
should find a spot where he might best study and enjoy her. He calls 
his house Monticello, (in Italian, Little Mountain,) a very modest title, 
for it is situated upon a very lofty one, but which announces the 
owner's attachment to the language of Italy; and above all to the fine 
arts, of which that country was the cradle, and is still the asylum. As 
I had no farther occasion for a guide, I separated from the Irishman; 
and after ascending by a tolerably commodious road, for more than 
half an hour, we arrived at Monticello. This house, of which Mr. 
Jefferson was the architect, and often one of the workmen, is rather 
elegant, and in the Italian taste, though not without fault; it consists 
of one large square pavillion, the entrance of which is by two porticos 
ornamented with pillars. The ground floor consists chiefly of a very 
large lofty saloon, which is to be decorated entirely in the antique 
style: above it is a library of the same form, two small wings, with 
only a ground floor, and attic story, are joined to this pavillion, and 
communicate with the kitchen, offices, &c. which will form a kind of 
basement story over which runs a terrace. My object in this short 
description is only to show the difference between this, and the other 
houses of the country; for we may safely aver, that Mr. Jefferson is 

A Visit to Monticello in 1782 37 

the first American who has consulted the fine arts to know how he 
should shelter himself from the weather. But it is on himself alone I 
ought to bestow my time. Let me describe to you a man, not yet forty, 
tall, and with a mild and pleasing countenance, but whose mind and 
understanding are ample substitutes for every exterior grace. An 
American, who without ever having quitted his own country, is at 
once a musician, skilled in drawing, a geometrician, an astronomer, a 
natural philosopher, legislator, and statesman. A senator of America, 
who sat for two years in that famous Congress which brought about 
the revolution; and which is never mentioned without respect, though 
unhappily not without regret: a governor of Virginia, who filled this 
difficult station during the invasions of Arnold, of Phillips, and of 
Cornwallis; a philosopher, in voluntary retirement from the world, 
and public business, because he loves the world, inasmuch only as he 
can flatter himself with being useful to mankind; and the minds of 
his countrymen are not yet in a condition either to bear the light, or 
to suffer contradiction. A mild and amiable wife, charming children, 
of whose education he himself takes charge, a house to embellish, 
great provisions to improve, and the arts and sciences to cultivate; 
these are what remain to Mr. Jefferson, after having played a prin- 
cipal character on the theatre of the new world, and which he pre- 
ferred to the honourable commission of Minister Plenipotentiary in 
Europe. The visit which I made him was not unexpected, for he had 
long since invited me to come and pass a few days with him, in the 
centre of the mountains; notwithstanding which I found his first 
appearance serious, nay even cold; but before I had been two hours 
with him we were as intimate as if we had passed our whole lives 
together; walking, books, but above all, a conversation always varied 
and interesting, always supported by that sweet satisfaction experi- 
enced by two persons, who in communicating their sentiments and 
opinions, are invariably in unison, and who understand each other 
at the first hint, made four days pass away like so many minutes. 

This conformity of sentiments and opinions on which I insist, 
because it constitutes my own eulogium, (and self-love must some- 
where show itself,) this conformity, I say, was so perfect, that not only 
our taste was similar, but our predilections also, those partialities 
which cold methodical minds ridicule as enthusiastic, whilst sensible 
and animated ones cherish and adopt the glorious appellation. I recol- 
lect with pleasure that as we were conversing one evening over a 


bowl of punch, after Mrs. Jefferson had retired, our conversation 
turned on the poems of Ossian. It was a spark of electricity which 
passed rapidly from one to the other; we recollected the passages in 
those sublime poems, which particularly struck us, and entertained 
my fellow travellers, who fortunately knew English well, and were 
qualified to judge of their merit, though they had never read the 
poems. In our enthusiasm the book was sent for, and placed near the 
bowl, where, by their mutual aid, the night far advanced impercep- 
tibly upon us. Sometimes natural philosophy, at others politics or the 
arts, were the topics of our conversation, for no object had escaped 
Mr. Jefferson; and it seemed as if from his youth he had placed his 
mind, as he had done his house, on an elevated situation,from which 
he might contemplate the universe. 



Auteuil, 7 May, 1785 

I presume my dear Lucy would be disappointed, if her cousin did not 
deliver her a line from her aunt. Yet it is hardly fair to take up an 
exhausted pen to address a young lady, whose eager search after 
knowledge entitles her to every communication in my power. 

I was in hopes to have visited several curiosities before your cousin 
left us, that I might have been able to relate them to my friends; but 
several engagements in the company way, and some preparation for 
his voyage, together with the necessary arrangements for our own 
journey, have so fully occupied me, that I fear I shall fail in my inten- 
tions. We are to dine to day with Mr. Jefferson. Should any thing 
occur there worthy of notice, it shall be the subject of my evening 

Well, my dear niece, I have returned from Mr. Jefferson's. When I 
gal there, I found a pretty large company. It consisted of the Marquis 
and Madame de la Fayette; the Count and Countess de ; a French 
Count, who had been a general in America, but whose name I forget; 
Commodore Jones; Mr. Jarvis, an American gentleman, lately arrived, 
the same who married Amelia Broom, who says there is so strong a 
likeness between your cousin and his lady, that he is obliged to be 
upon his guard, le^st he should think himself at home, and make some 
mistake; he appears a very sensible, agreeable gentleman; a Mr. 
Bowdoin, an American also; I ask the Chevalier de la Luzerne's 
pardon, I had like to have forgotten him; Mr. Williams, of course, 

From Letters of Mrs. Adams, the Wife of John Adams, with an introductory 
memoir by her grandson, Charles Francis Adams. Fourth edition. Boston, 1848. 



as he always dines with Mr. Jefferson; and Mr. Short; though one of 
Mr. Jefferson's family, as he has been absent some time, I name him. 
He took a resolution that he would go into a French family at St. 
Germain, and acquire the language; and this is the only way for a 
foreigner to obtain it. I have often wished that I could not hear a 
word of English spoken. I think I have mentioned Mr. Short before, 
in some of my letters; he is about the stature of Mr. Tudor; a better 
figure, but much like him in looks and manners; consequently a fa- 
vorite of mine. They have some customs very curious here. When 
company are invited to dine, if twenty gentlemen meet, they seldom 
or never sit down, but are standing or walking from one part of the 
room to the other, with their swords on, and their chapeau de bras, 
which is a very small silk hat, always worn under the arm. These they 
lay aside whilst they dine, but reassume them immediately after. I 
wonder how the fashion of standing crept in amongst a nation, who 
really deserve the appellation of polite; for in winter it shuts out all 
the fire from the ladies; I know I have suffered from it many times. 
At dinner, the ladies and gentlemen are mixed, and you converse 
with him who sits next you, rarely speaking to persons across the 
table, unless to ask if they will be served with any thing from your 
side. Conversation is never general, as with us; for, when the company 
quit the table, they fall into tete-a-tete of two and two, when the con- 
versation is in a low voice, and a stranger, unacquainted with the 
customs of the country, would think that everybody had private 
business to transact. 

Last evening, as we returned, the weather being very soft and 
pleasant, I proposed to your uncle to stop at the Tuileries and walk 
in the garden, which we did for an hour; there was, as usual, a collec- 
tion of four or five thousand persons in the walks. . . . 


Monticello is situated four miles from Milf ord, in that chain of moun- 
tains which stretches from James-River to the Rappahannock, twenty- 
eight miles in front of the Blue-Ridge, and in a direction parallel to 
those mountains. This chain, which runs uninterrupted in its small 
extent, assumes successively the names of the West, South, and 
Green Mountains. 

It is in the part known by the name of the South-Mountains that 
Monticello is situated. The house stands on the summit of the moun- 
tain, and the taste and arts of Europe have been consulted in the 
formation of its plan. Mr. Jefferson had commenced its construction 
before the American revolution; since that epocha his life has been 
constantly engaged in public affairs, and he has not been able to com- 
plete the execution of the whole extent of the project which it seems 
he had at first conceived. That part of the building which was finished 
has suffered from the suspension of the work, and Mr. Jefferson, who 
two years since resumed the habits and leisure of private life, is now 
employed in repairing the damage occasioned by this interruption, 
and still more by his absence; he continues his original plan, and even 
improves on it, by giving to his buildings more elevation and extent. 
He intends that they should consist only of one story, crowned with 
balustrades; and a dome is to be constructed in the center of the 
structure. The apartments will be large and convenient; the decora- 
tion, both outside and inside, simple, yet regular and elegant. Monti- 
cello, according to its first plan, was infinitely superior to all other 
houses in America, in point of taste and convenience; but at that time 
Mr. Jefferson had studied taste and the fine arts in books only. His 

From Travels Through the United States of North America, the Country of 
the Iroquois, and Upper Canada, in the Years, 1795, 1796, and 1797, by the 
Duke de la Rochefoucault Liancourt Second Edition. London, 1800. Volume 3. 



travels in Europe have supplied him with models; he has appropri- 
ated them to his design; and Ms new plan, the execution of which is 
already much advanced, will be accomplished before the end of next 
year, and then his house will certainly deserve to be ranked with the 
most pleasant mansions in France and England. 

Mr. Jefferson's house commands one of the most extensive prospects 
you can meet with. On the east side, the front of the building, the eye 
is not checked by any object, since the mountain on which the house 
is seated commands all the neighbouring heights as far as the Chesa- 
peak. The Atlantic might be seen were it not for the greatness of the 
distance, which renders that prospect impossible. On the right and 
left the eye commands the extensive valley that separates the Green, 
South and West Mountains from the Blue-Ridge, and has no other 
bounds but these high mountains., of which, on a clear day, you dis- 
cern the chain on the right upwards of a hundred miles, far beyond 
James-River; and on the left as far as Maryland, on the other side of 
the Potowrnack. Through some intervals, formed by the irregular 
summits of the Blue-Mountains, you discover the Peaked-Ridge, a 
chain of mountains placed between the Blue and North Mountains, 
another more distant ridge. But in the back part the prospect is soon 
interrupted by a mountain more elevated than that on which the 
house is seated. The bounds of the view on this point, at so small a 
distance, form a pleasant resting-place; as the immensity of prospect 
it enjoys is, perhaps, already too vast. A considerable number of culti- 
vated fields, houses, and bams, enliven and variegate the extensive 
landscape, still more embellished by the beautiful and diversified 
forms of mountains, in the whole chain of which not one resembles 
another, The aid of fancy is, however, required to complete the en- 
joyment of this magnificent view; and she must picture to us those 
plains and mountains such as population and culture will render 
them in a greater or smaller number of years. The disproportion ex- 
isting between the cultivated lands and those which are still covered 
with forests as ancient as the globe, is at present much too great: and 
even when that shall have been done away, the eye may perhaps 
further wish to discover a broad river, a great mass of water desti- 
tute of which, the grandest and most extensive prospect is ever desti- 
tute of an embellishment requisite to render it completely beautiful. 
On this mountain, and in the surrounding valleys, on both banks 
of the Bivanna, are situated the five thousand acres of land which Mr. 

A Visit to Monticello in 1796 43 

Jefferson possesses in this part of Virginia. Eleven hundred and 
twenty only are cultivated. The land left to the care of stewards has 
suffered as well as the buildings from the long absence of the master; 
according to the custom of the country it has been exhausted by suc- 
cessive culture. Its situation on declivities of hills and mountains 
renders a careful cultivation more necessary than is requisite in lands 
situated in a flat and even country; the common routine is more per- 
nicious, and more judgement and mature thought are required than 
in a different soil. This forms at present the chief employment of Mr. 
Jefferson. But little accustomed to agricultural pursuits, he has drawn 
the principles of culture either from works which treat on this sub- 
ject, or from conversation. Knowledge thus acquired often misleads, 
and is at all times insufficient in a country where agriculture is well 
understood; yet it is preferable to mere practical knowledge, in a 
country where a bad practice prevails, and where it is dangerous to 
follow the routine from which it is so difficult to depart. Above all, 
much good may be expected, if a contemplative mind, like that of 
Mr. Jefferson, which takes the theory for its guide, watches its appli- 
cation with discernment, and rectifies it according to the peculiar 
circumstances and nature of the country, climate and soil, and con- 
formably to the experience which he daily acquires. 

Pursuant to the ancient rotation, tobacco was cultivated four or 
five successive years; the land was then suffered to lie fallow, and 
then again succeeded crops of tobacco. The culture of tobacco being 
now almost entirely relinquished in this part of Virginia, the common 
rotation begins with wheat, followed by Indian corn, and then again 
wheat, until the exhausted soil loses every productive power; the field 
is then abandoned, and the cultivator proceeds to another, which he 
treats and abandons in the same manner, until he returns to the first, 
which has in the meantime recovered some of its productive facul- 
ties. The disproportion between the quantity of land which belongs 
to the planters and the hands they can employ in its culture, dimin- 
ishes the inconvenience of this detestable method. The land, which 
never receives the least manure, supports a longer or shorter time this 
alternate cultivation of wheat and Indian corn, according to its nature 
and situation, and regains, according to the same circumstances, more 
or less speedily the power of producing new crops. If in the interval it 
be covered with heath and weeds, it frequently is again fit for cultiva- 
tion at the end of eight or ten years; if not, a space of twenty years is 


not sufficient to render it capable of production. Planters who are not 
possessed of a sufficient quantity of land to let so much of it remain 
unproductive for such a length of time, fallow it in a year or two 
after it has borne wheat and Indian corn, during which time the fields 
serve as pasture, and are hereupon again cultivated in the same man- 
ner. In either case the land produces from five to six bushels of wheat, 
or from ten to fifteen bushels of Indian corn, the acre. To the produce 
of Indian corn must also be added one hundred pounds of leaves to 
every five bushels, or each barrel, of grain. These leaves are given as 
fodder to the cattle. It was in this manner that Mr. Jefferson^ land had 
always been cultivated, and it is this system which he has very wisely 
relinquished. He has divided all his land under culture into four 
farms, and every farm into six [seven] fields of forty acres. Each farm 
consists, therefore, of two hundred and eighty acres. His system of 
rotation embraces seven years, and this is the reason why each farm 
has been divided into seven fields. In the first of these seven years 
wheat is cultivated; in the second, Indian corn; in the third, pease or 
potatoes; in the fourth, vetches; in the fifth, wheat; and in the sixth 
and seventh, clover. Thus each of his fields yields some produce every 
year, and his rotation of successive culture, while it prepares the soil 
for the following crop, increases its produce. The abundance of 
clover, potatoes, pease, &c. will enable him to keep sufficient cattle 
for manuring his land, which at present receives hardly any dung at 
all, independently of the great profit which he will in future derive 
from the sale of his cattle. 

Each farm, under the direction of a particular steward or bailiff, is 
cultivated by four negroes, four negresses, four oxen, and four horses. 
The bailiffs, who in general manage their farms separately, assist 
each other during the harvest, as well as at any other time, when there 
is any pressing labour. The great declivity of the fields, which would 
render it extremely troublesome and tedious to carry the produce, 
even of each farm, to one common central point, has induced Mr. 
Jefferson to construct on each field a barn, sufficiently capacious to 
hold its produce in grain; the produce in forage is also housed there, 
but this is generally so great, that it becomes necessary to make 
stacks near the barns. The latter are constructed of trunks of trees, 
and the floors are boarded. The forests and slaves reduce the expence 
of these buildings to a mere trifle. 
Mr. Jefferson possesses one of those excellent threshing-machines, 

A Visit to Monticello in 1796 45 

which a few years since were invented in Scotland, and are already 
very common in England. This machine, the whole of which does not 
weigh two thousand pounds, is conveyed from one barn to another in 
a waggon, and threshes from one hundred and twenty to one hun- 
dred and fifty bushels a day. A worm, whose eggs are almost con- 
stantly deposited in the ear of the grain, renders it necessary to thresh 
the corn a short time after the harvest; in this case the heat, occa- 
sioned by the mixture of grain with its envelope, from which it is dis- 
engaged, but with which it continues mixed, destroys the vital prin- 
ciple of the egg, and protects the corn from the inconveniences of its 
being hatched. If the grain continued in the ears, without being 
speedily beaten, it would be destroyed by the worm, which would be 
excluded from the eggs. This scourge, however, spreads no farther 
northwards than the Potowmack, and is bounded to the west by the 
Blue Mountains. A few weeks after the corn has been beaten, it is 
free from all danger, winnowed and sent to market. The Virginia 
planters have generally their corn trodden out by horses; but this 
way is slow, and there is no country in the world where this operation 
requires more dispatch than in this part of Virginia. Besides the straw 
is bruised by the treading of horses. Mr. Jefferson hopes that his 
machine, which has already found some imitators among his neigh- 
bors, will be generally adopted in Virginia. In a country where all 
the inhabitants possess plenty of wood, this machine may be made at 
a very trifling expense. 

Mr. Jefferson rates the average produce of an acre of land, in the 
present state of his farm, at eight bushels of wheat, eighteen bushels 
of Indian corn, and twenty hundred weight of clover. After the land 
has been duly manured, he may expect a produce twice, nay three 
times more considerable. But his land will never be dunged as much 
as in Europe. Black cattle and pigs, which in our country are either 
constantly kept on the farm, or at least returned thither every eve- 
ning, and whose dung is carefully gathered and preserved either sepa- 
rate or mixed, according to circumstances, are here left grazing in the 
woods the whole year round. Mr. Jefferson keeps no more sheep than 
are necessary for the consumption of his own table. He cuts his clover 
but twice each season, and does not suffer his cattle to graze in his 
fields. The quality of his dung is therefore in proportion to the number 
of cattle which he can keep with his own fodder, and which he intends 
to buy at the beginning of winter to sell them again in spring; and 


the cattle kept in the vicinity of the barns where the forage is housed, 
will furnish manure only for the adjacent fields. 

From an opinion entertained by Mr. Jefferson, that the heat of the 
sun destroys, or at least dries up in a great measure, the nutritious 
juices of the earth, he judges it necessary that it should be always 
covered. In order therefore to preserve his fields, as well as to mul- 
tiply their produce, they never lie fallow, On the same principle he 
cuts his clover but twice a season, does not let the cattle feed on the 
grass, nor encloses his fields, which are merely divided by a single 
row of peach trees. 

A long experience would be required to form a correct judgement, 
whether the loss of dung which this system occasions in his farms, 
and the known advantage of fields enclosed with ditches, especially 
in a declivous situation, where the earth from the higher grounds is 
constantly washed down by the rain, are fully compensated by the 
vegetative powers which he means thus to preserve in his fields. His 
system is entirely confined to himself; it is censured by some of his 
neighbours, who are also employed in improving their culture with 
ability and skill, but he adheres to it, and thinks it is founded on just 

Wheat, as has already been observed, is the chief object of cultiva- 
tion in this country. The rise, which within these two years has taken 
place in the price of this article, has engaged the speculations of the 
planters, as well as the merchants. The population of Virginia, which 
is so inconsiderable in proportion to its extent, and so little collected 
in towns, would offer but a very precarious market for large numbers 
of cattle. Every planter has as many of them in the woods, as are 
required for the consumption of his family. The negroes, who form a 
considerable part of the population, eat but little meat, and this little 
is pork. Some farmers cultivate rye and oats ? but they are few in 
number. Corn is sold here to the merchants of Milford or Charlotte- 
Ville, who ship it for Richmond, where it fetches a shilling more per 
bushel than in other places. Speculation or a pressing want of money 
may at times occasion variations in this manner of sale, but it is cer- 
tainly the most common way. Money is very scarce in this district, 
and, bank-notes being unknown, trade is chiefly carried on by barter; 
the merchant, who receives the grain, returns its value in such com- 
modities as the vender stands in need of. 
Mr. Jefferson sold his wheat last year for two dollars and a half 

A Visit to Monticello in 1796 47 

per bushel. He contends, that it is in the district whiter than in the 
environs of Biclunond, and all other low countries, and that the 
bushel, which weighs there only from Sfty-five to fifty-eight pounds, 
weighs on his farm from sixty to sixty-five. 

In addition to the eleven hundred and twenty acres of land, di- 
vided into four farms, Mr, Jefferson sows a few acres with turnips, 
succory, and other feeds. 

Before I leave his farm, I shall not forget to mention, that I have 
seen here a drilling machine, the name of which cannot be translated 
into French but by "machme a -femer en paquets^ By Mr. Jefferson's 
account, it has been invented in his neighbourhood. If this machine 
fully answers the good opinion which he entertains of it, the invention 
is the more fortunate, as by Arthur Young's assertion not one good 
drilling-machine is to be found in England. This machine, placed 
on a sort of plough-carriage, carries an iron, which gently opens the 
furrow as deeply as is required. Behind this iron and, in the upper 
part of the machine, is a small trough, containing the grain which is 
intended to be sown. This grain is taken out of the trough by a row 
of small receivers, sewed on a leather band, or ribbons, and turning 
round two pivots placed above each other at the distance of from 
seven to eight inches. The small receivers take the grain from the 
trough, and turn it over into a small conduit, which conveys it into 
the furrow made by the iron. The distance of one of those receivers 
from another determines that of the places in which the grain is 
deposited in the ground; and a harrow, fixed on the machine behind 
the conduits through which the feed falls into the furrow, covers it 
again. The endless chain of the receivers, which forms the merit of 
the machine, may be compared with that which is used for drawing 
water from a great depth, ox still mare properly with a heaver of flour 
in Evans's mills. It is put in motion by a light wheel, which moves along 
the ground as the machine advances, and is fixed in such a manner 
that it is not obstructed in its movements by the inequalities of the 
ground, nor even by the stones which it may find in its way. If this 
machine really answers the intended purpose, it is difficult to con- 
ceive why it should not have been invented before, as it is extremely 
simple, composed of movements well known, and of powers fre- 
quently employed, In my opinion it admits, however, of great 

My readers will undoubtedly find that I bestow peculiar attention 

48 THE Due DE LA 

on agriculture, by speaking of Mr. Jefferson as a fanner, before I 
mention him in any other point of view. 

They must be very ignorant of the history of America, who know 
not that Mr. Jefferson shared with George Washington, Franklin, 
John Adams, Mr. Jay, and a few others, the toils and dangers of the 
revolution, in all its different stages; that in the famous congress 
which guided and consolidated it, he displayed a boldness and firm- 
ness of character, a fund of talents and knowledge, and a steadiness 
of principles, which will hand down his name to posterity with glory, 
and ensure to him for ever the respect and gratitude of all friends of 
liberty. It was he, who in that famous congress, so respectable, and 
so much respected in that congress, ever inaccessible to the seduc- 
tion, fear, and apparent weakness of the people who jointly with 
Mr. Lee, another deputy of Virginia, proposed the declaration of 
independence. It was he, who, supported principally by John Adams, 
pressed the deliberation on the subject, and carried it, bearing down 
the wary prudence of some of his colleagues, possessed of an equal 
share of patriotism, but less courage. It was he, who was charged 
with drawing up this master-piece of dignified wisdom, and patriotic 
pride. It was he, who being afterwards appointed governor of Vir- 
ginia at the period of the invasion of Arnold and Comwallis, acquired 
a peculiar claim on the gratitude of his fellow-citizens. It was he, 
who, as the first ambassador of the United States to France, filled at 
that momentous epocha that distinguished post to the satisfaction 
of both nations. In fine, it was he, who as Secretary of State in 1792, 
when the ridiculous and disorganizing pretensions of Mr, Genet, and 
the lofty arrogance of the * * * minister, endeavoured alternately to 
abuse the political weakness of the United States, induced his gov- 
ernment to speak a noble and independent language, which would 
have done credit to the most formidable power. The long corre- 
spondence carried on with these two designing agents would, from 
its just, profound, and able reasoning, be alone sufficient to confer 
on its author the reputation of an accomplished statesman. 

Since the beginning of 1794, Mr. Jefferson has withdrawn from 
public affairs. This was the time when the malevolent sentiments 
of ****** were displayed against the United States in the strong- 
est manner, and when her unjust proceedings were resented with 
the utmost indignation from one end of America to the other. This 

A Visit to Monticello in 1796 49 

was the most important epocha of the policy of the United States, 
because they proposed to act with energy and vigour. The preference 
which under those circumstances the President was accustomed to 
give to the advice of Mr. Hamilton, which continually carried along 
with it the opinion not only of General Knox, but also of Mr. Randolph, 
then attorney-general of the Union, over that of Mr. Jefferson, caused 
him to embrace this resolution. Immediately after this step, Mr. Jef- 
ferson was considered by the ruling party as the leader of Opposition; 
he was suspected of revolutionary views; he was accused of an in- 
tention to overturn the constitution of the United States, of being the 
enemy of his country, and of a wish to become a tribune of the 
people. It is sufficient to know that Mr. Jefferson is a man of sense, 
to feel the absurdity of these scandalous imputations; and whoever is 
acquainted with his virtue, must be astonished at their having ever 
been preferred against him. His speeches are those of a man firmly 
attached to the maintenance of the Union, of the present constitution, 
and of the independence of the United States. He is the declared 
enemy of every new system the introduction of which might be 
attempted, but he is a greater enemy of a kingly form of govern- 
ment than of any other. He is clearly of opinion, that the present con- 
stitution should be carefully preserved, and defended against all in- 
fringements arising from an extension of the prerogatives of the ex- 
ecutive power. It was framed and accepted on republican principles, 
and it is his wish that it should remain a republican constitution. On 
several occasions I have heard him speak with great respect of the 
virtues of the President, and in terms of esteem of his sound and un- 
erring judgement. 

But the spirit of party is carried to excess in America; men who 
embrace the opinion of Mr. Jefferson, attack their opponents with 
imputations, no doubt, equally unfounded. In all party-proceedings 
neither reason nor justice can be expected from either side, and very 
seldom strict morality with respect to the means employed to serve 
the favourite cause; one cause alone appears good; every thing 
besides is deemed bad, nay criminal, and probity itself serves to mis- 
lead probity. Personal resentments assume the colour of public spirit, 
and frequently, when the most odious acts of injustice have been 
committed, and the most atrocious calumnies spread, but few mem- 
bers of the party are in the secret, and know that they are the 


effusions of injustice and false representation. The truth of these 
observations being evident to all men who have lived amidst parties, 
should lead to mutual toleration and forbearance. 

In private Me Mr. Jefferson displays a mild, easy and obliging 
temper, though he is somewhat cold and reserved. His conversation 
is of the most agreeable kind, and he possesses a stock of information 
not inferior to that of any other man. In Europe he would hold a 
distinguished rank among men of letters, and as such he has already 
appeared there; at present he is employed with activity and per- 
severance in the management of his farms and buildings; and he 
orders, directs, and pursues in the minutest detail every branch of 
business relative to them. I found him in the midst of the harvest, 
from which the scorching heat of the sun does not prevent his attend- 
ance. His negroes are nourished, clothed, and treated as well as 
white servants could be. As he cannot expect any assistance from 
the two small neighbouring towns, every article is made on his farm; 
his negroes are cabinet-makers, carpenters, masons, bricklayers, 
smiths, &c. The children he employs in a nail-manufactory, which 
yields already a considerable profit. The young and old negresses 
spin for the clothing of the rest. He animates them by rewards and 
distinctions; in fine, his superior mind directs the management of 
his domestic concerns with the same abilities, activity, and regular- 
ity, which he evinced in the conduct of public affairs, and which he 
is calculated to display in every situation of life. In the superintend- 
ence of his household he is assisted by his two daughters, Mrs. Ran- 
dolph and Miss Mary, who are handsome, modest, and amiable 
women. They have been educated in France. Their father went often 
with them to the house of Madame cCEnuille, my dear and respectable 
aunt, where they became acquainted with my family, and as the 
names of many of my friends are not unknown to them, we were 
able to converse of them together. It will be easily conceived, that 
this could not but excite in my mind strong sensations, and recol- 
lections, sometimes painful, yet generally sweet. Fifteen hundred 
leagues from our native country, in another world, and frequently 
given up to melancholy, we fancy ourselves restored to existence, 
and not utter strangers to happiness, when we hear our family and 
our friends mentioned by persons who have known them, who repeat 
their names, describe their persons, and express themselves on so 
interesting a subject in terms of kindness and benevolence. 

A Visit to Monticello in 1796 51 

Mr. Randolph is proprietor of a considerable plantation, contigu- 
ous to that of Mr. Jefferson's; he constantly spends the summer with 
him, and, from the affection he bears him, he seems to be his son 
rather than his son-in-law. Miss Maria constantly resides with her 
father; but as she is seventeen years old, and is remarkably handsome, 
she will, doubtless, soon find, that there are duties which it is still 
sweeter to perform than those of a daughter. Mr. Jefferson's philo- 
sophic turn of mind, his love of study, his excellent library, which 
supplies him with the means of satisfying it, and his friends, will un- 
doubtedly help him to endure this loss, which moreover is not likely 
to become an absolute privation, as the second son-in-law of Mr. 
Jefferson may, like Mr. Randolph, reside in the vicinity of Monticello, 
and, if he be worthy of Miss Maria, will not be able to find any 
company more desirable than that of Mr. Jefferson. 

The situation of Monticello exempts this place from the pestilential 
effluvia which produces so many diseases in the lower countries. From 
its great elevation it enjoys the purest air; and the sea-breeze, which 
is felt on shore about eight or nine o'clock in the morning, reaches 
Monticello at one or two in the afternoon, and somewhat refreshes the 
atmosphere, but the sun is intolerable from its scorching heat; as 
indeed it is in all the southern States. The places that enjoy some 
advantage over others are those which, like Monticello, are exposed 
to its direct rays, without experiencing their reflection from more 
elevated mountains, or neighbouring buildings. 

Mr. Jefferson, in common with all landholders in America, imagines 
that his habitation is more healthy than any other; that it is as health- 
ful as any in the finest parts of France; and that neither the ague, 
nor any other bilious distempers are ever observed at Monticello. 
This is undoubtedly true, because he asserts it in regard to himself, 
to his family, and his negroes, none of whom is attacked by these 
maladies; but I am, nevertheless, of opinion, that an European, who 
during this season should expose himself too much to the air from 
nine in the morning until six at night, would not long enjoy a good 
state of health. During the seven days I continued there, not one 
passed without some moments of rain, and yet the intensity of the 
heat was not in the least abated by it. 

In Virginia mongrel negroes are found in greater number than in 
Carolina and Georgia; and I have even seen, especially at Mr. Jef- 
ferson's, slaves, who, neither in point of colour nor features, shewed 


the least trace of their original descent; but their mothers being slaves, 
they retain, of consequence, the same condition. This superior num- 
ber of people of colour is owing to the superior antiquity of the 
settlement of Virginia, and to the class of stewards or baliffs, who are 
accused of producing this mongrel breed. They are liable to tempta- 
tion, because they are young, and constantly amidst their slaves; 
and they enjoy the power of gratifying their passions, because they 
are despots. But the public opinion is so much against this inter- 
course between the white people and the black, that it is always by 
stealth, and transiently, the former satisfy their desires, as no white 
man is known to live regularly with a black woman. 

Before I close this article I must say, that during my residence at 
Monticello I witnessed the indignation excited in all tie planters of 
the neighbourhood by the cruel conduct of a master to- his slave, 
whom he had flogged to such a degree as to leave him almost dead 
on the spot. Justice pursues this barbarous master, and all the other 
planters declared loudly their wish, that he may be severely pun- 
ished, which seems not to admit of any doubt. 

But it is time to take leave of Mr. Jefferson, whose kind reception 
has perfectly answered what I had a right to expect from his civility, 
from our former acquaintance in France, and from his particular con- 
nection with my relations and friends. Mr. Jefferson is invited by the 
republican party, named anti-federalists, to succeed George Wash- 
ington in the President's chair of the United States, the latter having 
publicly declared, that he will not continue in this place, although he 
should be re-elected by the majority of the people of the United States. 
The other party is desirous of raising John Adams to that station, 
whose past services, and distinguished conduct in the cause of liberty, 
together with his place of Vice-President, give him also, no doubt, 
very powerful claims. In the present situation of the United States, 
divided as they are between two parties, which mutually accuse each 
other of perfidy and treason, and involved in political measures which 
it is equally difficult to retract and to pursue, this exalted station is 
surrounded with dangerous rocks; probity, a zealous attachment to 
the public cause, and the most eminent abilities, will not be sufficient 
to steer clear of them all, There exists no more in the United States 
a man in a situation similar to that of George Washington. On his first 
election, the confidence and gratitude of all America were concen- 
trated in him. Such a man cannot exist in the present conjunction of 

A Visit to Monticello in 1796 53 

circumstances, and the next president of the United States will be 
only the president of a party. Without being the enemy of one of 
the pretenders, one cannot, therefore, concur in the wish which he 
may entertain of being elevated to that eminent post. The fleeting 
enjoyment of the vanity of him, who shall be elected president, may, 
perhaps, be followed by the keenest pangs of grief in his remaining 
days. The two small towns of Charlotte-Ville and Milford trade in 
the produce of the country situated between them and the mountains. 
They also form a sort of depot for the commodities of more distant 
parts of the country; especially Milford, where the navigation begins, 
and does not experience any further interruption from this point to 
Richmond. The water-carriage of merchandise and commodities 
costs one third of a dollar per hundred weight. The trade, which in a 
small degree is also carried on with money, is chiefly managed by 
barter, because money is scarce, and notes are not readily received. 
The price of land is from four to five dollars per acre, and the quantity 
of land to be sold is very considerable. Meat, that is, mutton, veal and 
lamb, fetches four pence a pound; beef cannot be had but in winter. 
The wages of white workmen, such as masons, carpenters, cabinet- 
makers, and smiths, amount to from one and a half dollar to two 
dollars a day, according as they are scarce in the country. During the 
present season masons obtain the highest pay; there are not four 
stone-masons in the whole county of Albemarle, where Monticello is 
situated, which I left on the 29th of June. 



The salubrity of the climate is equal also to that of any part of the 
United States; and the inhabitants have in consequence a healthy 
ruddy appearance. The female part of the peasantry, in particular, is 
totally different from that in the low country. Instead of the pale, 
sickly, debilitated beings, whom you meet with there, you find 
amongst these mountains many a one who would be a fit subject to be 
painted for a Lavinia. It is really delightful to behold the groups of 
females, assembled here, at times, to gather the cherries and other 
fruits, which grow in the greatest abundance in the neighbourhood of 
almost every habitation. Their shapes and complexions are charming; 
and the carelessness of their dresses, which consist of little more, in 
common, than a simple bodice and petticoat, makes them appear 
still more engaging. 

The common people in this neighbourhood appeared to me to be 
of a more frank and open disposition, more inclined to hospitality, 
and to live more contentedly on what they possessed, than the people 
of the same class in any other part of the United States I passed 
through. From being able, however, to procure the necessaries of 
life upon very easy terms, they are rather of an indolent habit, and 
inclined to dissipation. Intoxication is very prevalent, and it is scarcely 
possible to meet with a man who does not begin the day with taking 
one, two, or more drams as soon as he rises. Brandy is the liquor 
which they principally use, and having the greatest abundance of 
peaches, they make it at a very trifling expence. There is hardly a 
house to be found with two rooms in it, but where the inhabitants 
have a still. The females do not fall into the habit of intoxication like 
the men, but in other respects they are equally disposed to pleasure, 
and their morals are in like manner relaxed. 

From Travels through the States of North America, and the Provinces of 
Upper and Lower Canada, during the years 1795, 1796, and 1797, by Isaac 
Weld, Junior. Fourth Edition. London, 1800. 


A Visit to Monticello in 1796 55 

Along these mountains live several gentlemen of large landed prop- 
erty, who farm their own estates, as in the lower parts of Virginia; 
among the number is Mr. Jefferson, from whose seat I date this letter. 
His house is about three miles distant from Charlottesville, and two 
from Milton, which is on the head waters of Rivanna River. It is most 
singularly situated, being built upon the top of a small mountain, the 
apex of which has been cut off, so as to leave an area of about an 
acre and a half. At present it is in an unfinished state; but if carried 
on according to the plan laid down, it will be one of the most elegant 
private habitations in the United States, A large apartment is laid 
out for a library and museum, meant to extend the entire breadth of 
the house, the windows of which are to open into an extensive green- 
house and aviary. In the centre is another very spacious apartment, 
of an octagon form, reaching from the front to the rear of the house, 
the large folding glass doors of which, at each end, open under a 
portico. An apartment like this, extending from front to back, is very 
common in a Virginian house; it is called the saloon, and during 
summer is the one generally preferred by the family, on account of 
its being more airy and spacious than any other. The house commands 
a magnificent prospect on one side of the blue ridge of mountains for 
nearly forty miles, and on the opposite one, of the low country, in 
appearance like an extended heath covered with trees, the tops of 
which alone are visible. The mists and vapours arising from the low 
grounds give a continual variety to the scene. The mountain whereon 
the house stands is thickly wooded on one side, and walks are carried 
round it, with different degrees of obliquity, running into each other. 
On the south side is the garden and a large vineyard, that produces 
abundance of fine fruit. 

Several attempts have been made in this neighbourhood to bring 
the manufacture of wine to perfection; none of them, however, have 
succeeded to the wish of the parties. A set of gentlemen once went 
to the expence even of bringing six Italians over for the purpose; 
but the vines which the Italians found growing here were different, 
as well as the soil, from what they had been in the habit of cultivating, 
and they were not much more successful in the business than the 
people of the country. We must not, however, from hence conclude, 
that good wine can never be manufactured upon these mountains. 
It is well known that the vines, and the mode of cultivating them, 
vary as much in different parts of Europe as the soil in one country 


differs from that in another. It will require some time, therefore, and 
different experiments, to ascertain the particular kind of vine, and the 
mode of cultivating it, best adapted to the soil of these mountains. 
This, however, having been once ascertained, there is every reason 
to suppose that the grape may be cultivated to the greatest perfection, 
as the climate is as favourable for the purpose as that of any country 
in Europe. By experiments also it is by no means improbable, that 
they will in process of time learn the best method of converting the 
juice of the fruit into wine. 


"And is this/' said I, after my first interview with Mr. Jefferson, "the 
violent democrat, the vulgar demagogue, the bold atheist and prof- 
ligate man I have so often heard denounced by the federalists? Can 
this man so meek and mild, yet dignified in his manners, with a voice 
so soft and low, with a countenance so benignant and intelligent, can 
he be that daring leader of a faction, that disturber of the peace, that 
enemy of all rank and order?" Mr. Smith, indeed, (himself a demo- 
crat) had given me a very different description of this celebrated indi- 
vidual; but his favourable opinion I attributed in a great measure to 
his political feelings, which led him zealously to support and exalt 
the party to which he belonged, especially its popular and almost 
idolized leader. Thus the virulence of party-spirit was somewhat 
neutralized, nay, I even entertained towards him the most kindly 
dispositions, knowing him to be not only politically but personally 
friendly to my husband; yet I did believe that he was an ambitious 
and violent demagogue, coarse and vulgar in his manners, awkward 
and rude in his appearance, for such had the public journals and 
private conversations of the federal party represented him to be. 1 

In December, 1800, a few days after Congress had for the first 
time met in our new Metropolis, I was one morning sitting alone in 
the parlour, when the servant opened the door and showed in a 
gentleman who wished to see my husband. The usual frankness and 
care with which I met strangers, were somewhat checked by the 
dignified and reserved air of the present visitor; but the chilled feel- 
ing was only momentary, for after taking the chair I offered him in 
a free and easy manner, and carelessly throwing his arm on the table 
near which he sat, he turned towards me a countenance beaming 
with an expression of benevolence and with a manner and voice 

From The First Forty 'Years of Washington Society, by Margaret Bayard 
Smith. Edited by Gaillard Hunt. New York, 1906. 

1 Col. John Bayard, Mrs. Smith's father, was a federalist. 



almost femininely soft and gentle, entered into conversation on the 
commonplace topics of the day, from which, before I was conscious 
of it, he had drawn me into observations of a more personal and 
interesting nature. I know not how it was, but there was something 
in his manner, his countenance and voice that at once unlocked my 
heart, and in answer to his casual enquiries concerning our situation 
in our new harne, as he called it, I found myself frankly telling him 
what I liked or disliked in our present circumstances and abode. I 
knew not who he was, but the interest with which he listened to my 
artless details, induced the idea he was some intimate acquaintance 
or friend of Mr. Smith's and put me perfectly at my ease; in truth so 
kind and conciliating were his looks and manners that I forgot he was 
not a friend of my own, until on the opening of the door, Mr. Smith 
entered and introduced the stranger to me as Mr. Jefferson. 

I felt my cheeks burn and my heart throb, and not a word more 
could I speak while he remained. Nay, such was my embarrassment 
I could scarcely listen to the conversation carried on between him and 
my husband. For several years he had been to me an object of pecu- 
liar interest. In fact my destiny, for on his success in the pending 
presidential election, or rather the success of the democratic party, 
(their interests were identical) my condition in life, my union with 
the man I loved, depended. In addition to this personal interest, I 
had long participated in my husband's political sentiments and anxie- 
ties, and looked upon Mr. Jefferson as the corner stone on which the 
edifice of republican liberty was to rest, looked upon him as the 
champion of human rights, the reformer of abuses, the head of the 
republican party, which must rise or fall with him, and on the triumph 
of the republican party I devoutly believed the security and welfare 
of my country depended. Notwithstanding those exalted views of 
Mr. Jefferson as a political character; and ardently eager as I was for 
his success, I retained my previously conceived ideas of the coarse- 
ness and vulgarity of his appearance and manners and was therefore 
equally awed and surprised, on discovering the stranger whose de- 
portment was so dignified and gentlemanly, whose language was so 
refined, whose voice was so gentle, whose countenance was so benig- 
nant, to be no other than Thomas Jefferson. How instantaneously 
were all these preconceived prejudices dissipated, and in proportion 
to their strength, was the reaction that took place in my opinions and 
sentiments. I felt that I had been the victim of prejudice, that I had 

Reminiscences of President Jefferson 59 

been unjust. The revolution of feeling was complete and from that 
moment my heart warmed to him with the most affectionate interest 
and I implicitly believed all that his friends and my husband believed 
and which the after experience of many years confirmed. Yes, not 
only was he great, but a truly good man! 

The occasion of his present visit, was to make arrangements with 
Mr. Smith for the publication of his Manual for Congress, now called 
Jefersons manual. The original was in his own neat, plain, but 
elegant handwriting. The manuscript was as legible as printing and 
its unadorned simplicity was emblematical of his character. It is still 
preserved by Mr. Smith and valued as a precious relique. 

After the affair of business was settled, the conversation became 
general and Mr. Jefferson several times addressed himself to me; but 
although his manner was unchanged, my feelings were, and I could 
not recover sufficient ease to join in the conversation. He shook hands 
cordially with us both when he departed, and in a manner which said 
as plain as words could do, "I am your friend." 

During part of the time that Mr. Jefferson was President of the 
Philosophical Society (in Philadelphia) Mr. Smith was its secretary. 
A prize offered by the society for the best system of national education, 
was gained by Mr. Smith. The merit of this essay, first attracted the 
notice of Mr. J. to its author; the personal acquaintance which then 
took place, led to a friendly intercourse which influenced the future 
destiny of my husband, as it was by Mr. Jefferson's advice, that he 
moved to Washington and established the National Intelligencer. 
Esteem for the talents and character of the editor first won Mr. Jeffer- 
son's regard, a regard which lasted to the end of his life and was a 
thousand times evinced by acts of personal kindness and confidence. 


November 3d. [1807] Nothing done in Senate. I am tired of this 
continued state of nihility at the commencement of a session, and 
will attempt something further to rescue the Senate from it. It will, 
however, be necessary to proceed with caution. I went into the House, 
where they were doing as little as nothing, and soon adjourned. 
Dined at the President's, with a company consisting chiefly of mem- 
bers of CongressMessrs. Mitchell, Van Cortlandt, Verplanck, Van 
Allen, Johnson, Key, Magruder, Taylor, Calhoun, Butler, Thomp- 
son, and Eppes. I mentioned to Mr. Jefferson that the publishing 
committee had a letter from him to the Earl of Buchan, sent by him 
to the Massachusetts Historical Society with a view to its publication. 
But the committee thought it most consistent at least with delicacy 
to ascertain* whether the publication would be not disagreeable to 
him. He asked whether it did not contain some free sentiments re- 
specting the British Government. I told him it did. He then desired 
that it might not be published, at least while he remained in public 
office; and said he could not conceive why Lord Buchan could have 
sent it for publication, unless it were because it contained some 
compliments to himself. At dinner there was much amusing con- 
versation between him and Dr. Mitchell [Samuel Latham Mitchell], 
though altogether desultory. There was, as usual, a dissertation upon 
wines; not very edifying. Mr. Jefferson said that the Epicurean phi- 
losophy came nearest to the truth, in his opinion, of any ancient 
system of philosophy, but that it had been misunderstood and mis- 
represented. He wished the work of Gassendi concerning it had been 
translated. It was the only accurate account of it extant. I mentioned 
Lucretius. He said that was only a part only the natural philosophy. 
But the moral philosophy was only to be found in Gassendi. Dr. Mit~ 

From Memoirs of John Qmncy Adams } Comprising Portions of his Diary 
from 1795 to 1848, edited by Charles Francis Adams. Philadelphia, 1874. 


Dinner With President Jefferson 61 

chell mentioned Mr. Fulton's steamboat as an invention of great 
importance. To which Mr. Jefferson, assenting, added, "and I think 
his torpedoes a valuable invention too." He then enlarged upon the 
certainty of their effect, and adverted to some of the obvious objec- 
tions against them, which he contended were not conclusive. Dr. 
Mitchell's conversation was very various, o chemistry, of geography, 
and of natural philosophy; of oils, grasses, beasts, birds, petrifactions, 
and incrustations; Pike and Humboldt, Lewis and Barlow, and a long 
train of et cetera for the Doctor knows a little of every thing, and 
is communicative of what he knows which makes me delight in his 
company. Mr. Jefferson said that he had always been extremely fond 
of agriculture, and knew nothing about it, but the person who united 
with other sciences the greatest agricultural knowledge of any man 
he knew was Mr. Madison. He was the best farmer in the world. On 
the whole, it was one of the agreeable dinners I have had at Mr. 


In compliance with your request, I have committed to paper my 
reminiscences of Mr. Jefferson, as they, still green and fresh in my 
memory, have occurred to me. I was thirty-four years old when he 
died. . . . 

His manner was dignified, reserved with strangers, but frank and 
cordial with his friends; his conversation cheerful, often sportive, and 
illustrated by anecdotes. He spoke only of the good qualities of men, 
which induced the belief that he knew little of them, but no one 
knew them better. I had formed this opinion, and on hearing him 
speak very favorably of men with defects known to myself, stated 
them to him, when he asked if I supposed he had not observed them, 
adding others not noted by me, and evincing much more accurate 
knowledge of the individual character than I possessed, observing, 
"My habit is to speak only of men's good qualities." When he believed 
that either men or measures were adverse to Republican institutions, 
he spoke of them with open and unqualified condemnation. 

Standing himself on an elevated position, from his talents, educa- 
tion, fortune and political station, he was emphatically the friend of 
the working-man. On passing the home of a neighbor (Mr. Jesse 
Lewis), a blacksmith, remarkable for his probity, his integrity and 
his industry, and too wise, when past the meridian of life, to be 
ashamed to work at the trade that had made his fortune, he often 
remarked of him, "it is such men as that who constitute the wealth 
of a nation, not millionaires." 

He never indulged in controversial conversation, because it often 
excited unpleasant feeling, and illustrated its inutility by the anec- 
dote of two men who sat down candidly to* discuss a subject, and 
each converted the other. His maxim was, that every man had a right 
to his own opinion on all subjects, and others were bound to respect 

From a letter to Henry S. Randall, Appendix No. xxxvi, Volume in, The Life 
of Thomas Jefferson, by Henry S. Randall. New York, 1858. 


My Grandfather, Mr. Jefferson 63 

that right; hence, in conversation, if any one expressed a decided 
opinion differing from his own, he made no reply, but changed the 
subject; he believed men could always find subjects enough to con- 
verse on, which they agreed in opinion, omitting those upon which 
they differed; unreserved and candid himself, he was a listener, 
encouraging others to converse. His tact in the management of men 
was great; he inquiringly followed out adverse opinions to their 
results, leaving it to their friends to note the error into which it led 
them, taking up their doubts as important suggestions, never permit- 
ting a person to place himself upon the defensive, or if he did, chang- 
ing the subject, so as not to fix him in a wrong opinion by controverting 
it. With men of fertile and ingenious minds, fond of suggesting 
objections to propositions stated, he would sometimes suggest the 
opposite of the conclusion to which he desired them to come, then 
assent to the force of their objections, and thus lead them to convert 
themselves. If information was sought, he gave it freely; if doubts 
were suggested, he explained them without reserve, never objecting 
to the scrutiny or canvass of his own opinion. As a public man, his 
friends complained that he spoke too freely, communicating more 
than they thought prudent. His powers of conversation were great, 
yet he always turned it to subjects most familiar to those with whom 
he conversed, whether laborer, mechanic or other; and if they dis- 
played sound judgment and a knowledge of the subject, entered the 
information they gave, under appropriate heads, for reference, em- 
bodying thus a mass of facts upon the practical details of every-day 
life. His capacity to acquire knowledge was of the highest order; his 
application intense and untiring his system and arrangement for the 
preservation of, and reference to the sources of his acquirements, 
most methodical and exact. The Hon. Littleton Waller Tazewell told 
me, that when a young man, his father being in the Senate, and Mr. 
Jefferson Vice-President, some case of impeachment coming on, he 
was sent with a note to Mr. Jefferson, asking some references to 
authorities on the subject. On the delivery of the note, he took a note- 
book from a drawer and instantly copied the references. On delivering 
them to his father, the latter observed he believed he had sent him 
chapter and verse for everything written on the subject. Of his volu- 
minous correspondence, embracing upwards of forty thousand letters, 
written and received, and the private and public accounts of his whole 
life, he could in a moment lay his hand on any letter or receipt. 


Shortly after his death, Mr. Madison expressed to me the opinion, 
that Mr. Jefferson would be found to be the most learned man that 
had ever devoted so much time to public Life. He was economical, 
exact, and methodical in his expenses and accounts. The account 
books, now in my possession, of his Maitre d'Hotel, at Paris and 
Washington, show the minutest details of household expenditures, 
and notes and figures in his own hand-writing, exhibit the closest 
personal inspection by himself, and a monthly analysis in a tabula- 
rized form of the expenditures in each item. His own numerous 
account books show the entry at the time, in his own hand, of each 
expenditure, however minute. 

His manners were of that polished school of the Colonial Govern- 
ment, so remarkable in its day under no circumstances violating any 
of those minor conventional observances which constitute the well- 
bred gentleman, courteous and considerate to all persons. On riding 
out with him, when a lad, we met a negro who bowed to us; he 
returned his bow, I did not; turning to me he asked, "do you permit 
a negro to be more of a gentleman than yourself?" 

There was a little emulation endeavored to be excited among the 
older gentlemen of the neighborhood, in their gardening; and he 
who had peas first, announced his success by an invitation to the 
others to dine with him. A wealthy neighbor, without children, and 
fond of horticulture, generally triumphed. Mr. Jefferson, on one occa- 
sion had them first, and when his family reminded him that it was 
his right to invite the company, he replied "No, say nothing about it, 
it will be more agreeable to our friend to think that he never fails. 7 ' 
In his person he was neat in the extreme. In early life, his dress, 
equipage, and appointments were fastidiously appropriate to his rank. 
As he grew old, although preserving his extreme neatness, his dress 
was plainer, and he was more indifferent to the appearance of his 
equipage. When at Paris, Philadelphia, and Washington, his furni- 
ture, table, servants, equipage and the tout ensemble of his establish- 
ment, were deemed highly appropriate to the position he held. He 
was a gentleman everywhere. On entering the Presidency, he deter- 
mined not to have weekly levees, like his predecessors, and so 
announced. His political opponents determined that he should con- 
tinue the custom. On the first levee day, he rode out at his usual 
hour of one o'clock, returning at three, and on entering the President's 
house, booted, whip in hand, soiled with his ride, found himself in a 

Jefferson at 44. 


(Replica painted by Trumbull in London in 1788 for Angelica Church.) 
Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New "York 

Jefferson at 46. 

Courtesy of The New-York Historical Society, New York City 

My Grandfather, Mr. Jefferson 65 

crowd of ladies and gentlemen, fashionably dressed for the occasion. 
He greeted them with all the ease and courtesy of expected guests 
that he had been prepared to receive, exhibiting not the slightest 
indication of annoyance. They never again tried the experiment. At 
home, he desired to live like his neighbors, in the plain hospitality 
of a Virginia gentleman. It was a source of continued and deep regret 
to him, that the number of strangers who visited him, kept his neigh- 
bors from him; he said, "lie had to exchange the society of his friends 
and neighbors for those whom he had never seen before, and never 
expected to see again/' 

Mr. Jefferson's hair, when young, was of a reddish cast, sandy as 
he advanced in years his eye, hazel dying in his 84th year, he had 
not lost a tooth, or had one defective; his skin, thin, peeling from his 
face on exposure to the sun, and giving it a tettered appearance; the 
superficial veins so weak, as upon the slightest blow, to cause exten- 
sive suffusions of blood, in early life, upon standing to write for any 
length of time, bursting beneath the skin: it, however, gave him no 
inconvenience. His countenance was mild and benignant, and attract- 
ive to strangers. While President, returning on horseback from court, 
with company whom he had invited to dinner, and who were, all 
but one or two, riding ahead of him, on reaching a stream over which 
there was no bridge, a man asked him to take him up behind and 
carry him over. The gentlemen in the rear coming up just as Mr. 
Jefferson had put him down and rode on, asked the man how it 
happened that he had permitted the others to pass without asking 
them? He replied, "From their looks I did not like to ask them the 
old gentleman looked as if he would do it, and I asked him." He was 
very much surprised to hear that he had ridden behind the President 
of the United States. Mr. Jefferson's stature was commanding, six 
feet two and a half inches in height, well formed, indicating strength, 
activity, and robust health; his carriage, erect; step firm and elastic, 
which he preserved to his death; his temper, naturally strong, under 
perfect control his courage, cool and impassive no one ever knew 
him exhibit trepidation his moral courage of the highest order his 
will, firm and inflexible it was remarked of him that he never aban- 
doned a plan, a principle, or a friend. A bold and fearless rider, you 
saw at a glance, from his easy and confident seat, that he was master 
of his horse, which was usually the fine blood horse of Virginia. The 
only impatience of temper he ever exhibited, was with his horse, 


which he subdued to his will by a fearless application of the whip, 
on the slightest manifestation of restiveness. He retained to the last 
his fondness for riding on horseback; he rode within three weeks of 
his death, when from disease, debility and age, he mounted with 
difficulty. He rode with confidence, and never permitted a servant 
to accompany him; he was fond of solitary rides and musing, and 
said that the presence B of a servant annoyed him. He held in little 
esteem the education that made men ignorant and helpless as to the 
common necessities of life; and he exemplified it by an incident which 
occurred to a young gentleman returned from Europe, where he had 
been educated. On riding out with his companions, the strap of his 
girth broke, at the hole of the buckle; and they, perceiving it an 
accident easily remedied, rode on and left him. A plain man coming 
up and seeing that his horse had made a circular path in the road in 
his impatience to get on, asked if he could aid him? "Oh, sir/' replied 
the young man, "if you could only assist me to get it up to the next 
hole/* "Suppose you let it out a hole or two on the other side," said 
the man. 

His habits were regular and systematic. He was a miser of his time, 
rose always at dawn, wrote and read until breakfast, breakfasted early, 
and dined from three to fourafter breakfast read for half an hour in 
his public rooms or portico, in summer- visited his garden and work- 
shops-returned to his writing and reading till one, when he rode on 
horseback to three or half past-dined, and gave the evening to his 
family and company retired at nine, and to bed from ten to eleven. 
He said in his last illness, that the sun had not caught him in bed for 
fifty years. He always made his own fire. He drank water but once a 
day, a single glass, when he returned from his ride. He ate heartily, 
and much vegetable food, preferring French cookery, because it 
made the meats more tender. He never drank ardent spirits or strong 
wines such was his aversion to ardent spirits that when, in his last 
illness, his physician desired him to use brandy as an astringent, he 
could not induce him to take it strong enough. 



Chief Overseer at Monticello 
as told to 


"Mr. Jefferson was six feet two and a half inches high, well propor- 
tioned, and straight as a gun-barrel. He was like a fine horsehe had 
no surplus flesh. He had an iron constitution, and was very strong. 
He had a machine for measuring strength. There were very few men 
that I have seen try it, that were as strong in the arms as his son-in- 
law, Col. Thomas Mann Randolph; but Mr. Jefferson was stronger 
than he. He always enjoyed the best of health. I don't think he was 
ever really sick, until his last sickness. His skin was very clear and 
pure just like he was in principle. He had blue eyes. His countenance 
was always mild and pleasant. You never saw it ruffled. No odds what 
happened, it always maintained the same expression. When I was 
sometimes very much fretted and disturbed, his countenance was 
perfectly unmoved. I remember one case in particular. We had about 
eleven thousand bushels of wheat in the mill, and coopers and every 
thing else employed. There was a big freshet the first after the dam 
was finished. It was raining powerfully. I got up early in the morning, 
and went up to the dam. While I stood there, it began to break, and 
I stood and saw the freshet sweep it all away. I never felt worse. I did 
not know what we should do. I went up to see Mr. Jefferson. He had 
just come from breakfast. Well, sir/ said he, liave you heard from the 
river?* I said, 4 Yes, sir; I have just come from there with very bad 
news. The milldam is all swept away.' Well, sir,' said he, just as calm 
and quiet as though nothing had happened, 'we can't make a new 
dam this summer, but we will get Lewis' ferry-boat, with our own, 
and get the hands from all the quarters, and boat in rock enough in 
place of the dam, to answer for the present and next summer. I will 
send to Baltimore and get ship-bolts, and we will make a dam that 
the freshet can't wash away/ He then went on and explained to me in 

From Jefferson At Monticello. The Private Life of Thomas Jefferson. From 
entirely new Materials. By Rev. Hamilton W. Pierson. New York, 1862. 



detail just how he would have the dam built. We repaired the dam 
as he suggested, and the next summer we made a new dam, that I 
reckon must be there yet 

"Mr. Jefferson was always an early riser-arose at daybreak, or 
before. The sun never found him in bed. I used sometimes to think, 
when I went up there very early in the morning, that I would find him 
in bed; but there he would be before me, walking on the terrace. 

*He never had a servant make a fire in his room in the morning, or 
at any other time, when Le was at home. He always had a box filled 
with nice dry wood in his room, and when he wanted fire he would 
open it and put on the wood. He would always have a good many 
ashes in his fireplace, and when he went out he would cover up his 
fire very carefully, and when he came back lie would uncover the 
coals and make on a fire for himself. 

"He did not use tobacco in any form. He never used a profane 
word or any thing like it He never played cards. I never saw a card 
in the house at Monticello, and I had particular orders from him to 
suppress card-playing among the negroes, who, you know, are gen- 
erally very fond of it. I never saw any dancing in his house, and if 
there had been any there during the twenty years I was with him I 
should certainly have known it. He was never a great eater, but what 
he did eat he wanted to be very choice. He never eat much hog-meat. 
He often told me, as I was giving out meat for the servants, that what 
I gave one of them for a week would be more tiian he would use in 
six months. When he was coming home from Washington I generally 
knew it, and got ready for him, and waited at the house to give him 
the keys, After saying 'How are all?' and talking awhile, he would say, 
What have you got that is good?' I knew mighty well what suited him. 
He was especially fond of Guinea fowls; and for meat he preferred 
good beef, mutton, and lambs. Those broad-tailed sheep I told you 
about made the finest mutton I ever saw. Merriweather Lewis' mother 
made very nice hams, and every year I used to get a few from her 
for his special use. He was very fond of vegetables and fruit, and 
raised every variety of them. He was very ingenious. He invented a 
plough that was considered a great improvement on any that had ever 
been used. He got a great many premiums and medals for it. He 
planned his own carriage, buildings, garden, fences, and a good 
many other things. He was nearly always busy upon some plan or 

Recollections of Jefferson s Overseer at Monticello 69 

"Every day, just as regularly as the day came, unless the weather 
was very bad, he would have his horse brought out and take his ride. 
The boy who took care of his horse knew what time he started, and 
would bring him out for him, and hitch him in his place. He generally 
started about nine o'clock. He was an uncommonly fine rider sat 
easily upon his horse, and always had him in the most perfect con- 
trol. After he returned from Washington he generally rode Brimmer 
or Tecumseh until I bought Eagle for him of Capt. John Graves, of 
Louisa Co., just before I left him. 

"He was always very neat in his dress, wore short breeches and 
bright shoe buckles. When he rode on horseback he had a pair of 
overalls that he always put on. 

"Kir. Jefferson never debarred himself from hearing any preacher 
that came along. There was a Mr. Hiter, a Baptist preacher, that used 
to preach occasionally at the Charlottesvifle Court House. He had no 
regular church, but was a kind of missionary rode all over the 
country and preached. He wasn't much of a preacher, was unedu- 
cated, but he was a good man. Everybody had confidence in him, 
and they went to hear him on that account. Mr. Jefferson's nephews 
Peter Carr, Sam. Carr, and Dabney Carr thought a great deal of 
him. I have often heard them talk about him. Mr. Jefferson nearly 
always went to hear him when he came around. I remember his being 
there one day in particular. His servant came with him and brought 
a seat a kind of camp stool, upon which he sat. After Mr. Jefferson 
got old and feeble, a servant used to go with him over the plantation, 
and cany that stool, so that he could sit down while he was waiting 
and attending to any kind of work that was going on. After the sermon 
there was a proposition to pass round the hat and raise money to buy 
the preacher a horse. Mr. Jefferson did not wait for the hat. I saw 
him unbutton his overalls, and get his hand into his pocket, and 
take out a handful of silver, I don't know how much. He then walked 
across the Court House to Mr. Hiter, and gave it into his hand. He 
bowed very politely to Mr. Jefferson, and seemed to be very much 

"Mr. Jefferson was very liberal and kind to the poor. When he 
would come from Washington, the poor people all about the country 
would find it out immediately, and would come in crowds to Monti- 
cello to beg him. He would give them notes to me, directing me 
what to give them. I knew them all a great deal better than he did. 


Many of them I knew were not worthy were just lazy, good-for- 
nothing people, and I would not give them any thing. When I saw 
Mr, Jefferson I told him who they were, and that he ought not to 
encourage them in their laziness. He told me that when they came 
to him and told him their pitiful tales, he could not refuse them, and 
he did not know what to do. I told him to send them to me. He did so, 
but they never would come. They knew what to expect. 

"In, I think, the year 1816, there was a very severe frost, and the 
corn was almost destroyed. It was so badly injured that it would 
hardly make bread, and it was thought that the stock was injured by 
eating it. There was a neighborhood at the base of the Blue Ridge 
where the frost did not injure the corn. They had a good crop, and 
the people were obliged to give them just what they were disposed to 
ask for it. I went up there and bought thirty barrels for Mr. Jefferson 
of a Mr. Massey gave him ten dollars a barrel for it. That spring the 
poor trifling people came in crowds for corn. I sent the wagon after 
what I had bought, and by the time it would get back, Mr. Jefferson 
had given out so many of his little orders that it would pretty much 
take the load. I could hardly get it hauled as fast as he would give 
it away. I went to Mr. Jefferson and told him it never would do; we 
could not give ten dollars a barrel for corn, and haul it thirty miles, 
and give it away after that fashion. He said, What can I do? These 
people tell me they have no corn, and it will not do to let them suffer. 
I told him again, I could tell him what to do. Just send them all to me. 
I knew them all a great deal better than he did, and would give to all 
that were really deserving. 

"There was an old woman named # # # * w ho used to trouble us 
a great deal. She had three daughters that were bad girls large, 
strapping, lazy things and the old woman would beg for them. One 
day she went to Mr. Jefferson in a mean old dress, and told him some 
pitiful story, and he gave her a note to me directing me to give her 
two bushels of meal. I did so. The same day she went to Mrs. Ran- 
dolph and got three sides of bacon middling meat. There was more 
than she could carry, and she had two of her daughters' illegitimate 
children to help her carry it home. When she got to the river, the 
old negro who attended the ferry was so mad to see her carrying 
off the meat that he would not ferry her over. So she laid the meat 
on the edge of the boat, and they ferried themselves across. When 
the boat struck the bank it jarred the meat off, and it went to the 

Recollections of Jefferson s Overseer at Monticello 71 

bottom of the river, and she had a great deal of trouble to get it. 

"Afterwards she went to Mr. Jefferson and told him the meal I 
gave her was not goodwould not make bread, and he sent her to 
me again. I told her the meal in the mill was all alike, and she could 
only get better by going to the Blue Ridge for the corn. She said she 
had no horse, it was too far to walk, and she could not go. I told 
her I would furnish her a mule. Mr. Jefferson had an old mule that 
must have been thirty or forty years old, called Dolphin. He was too 
old to work and we did not like to kill him. His hair grew very long, 
and he was a sight to look at. He was too old to jump much, but he 
would tear down the fence with his nose and go over the plantation 
pretty much as he pleased. I was very anxious to get rid of the mule 
and of the old woman too, and I thought that may be if I loaned 
her the mule she would not come back. So I told her she could have 
the old mule and go and get her corn. She came and stayed over 
night, so as to get an early start. My wife gave her a coffee sack, and 
I gave her an order on Massey, and she started off on old Dolphin. 
When she got up there the people knew nothing about her, and 
she could do so much better begging that, sure enough, she never 
came back at all. Mr. Jefferson used to enjoy telling people how I 
got rid of the old woman and Dolphin. She soon sent for her daugh- 
ters. Two of them went up there; but a man named * * * * had taken 
up with one of them, and he moved her off into another neighbor- 
hood. He was a well-educated man, and much of a gentleman. His 
poor old mother was a mighty good woman, and she was so dis- 
tressed about it that it almost made her crazy. 

"Some six weeks or two months after the old woman had gone, I 
saw something moving about in the wheat-field, and, sure enough, 
there was Dolphin home again. After this there was a couple of 
Kentucky drovers named Scott and Dudley, from whom we used to 
buy a good many mules for the plantation, came along with a drove. 
I told them about the trouble we had with Dolphin. They said they 
would take him away so that he would trouble us no more, and I gave 
him to them. They sheared off his long hair and trimmed him up so 
that he looked quite well. They found one in the drove that matched 
him very well, and went on a few miles, and sold the pair to Hon. 
Hugh Nelson. He was a Congressman. He and Wm. C. Rives married 
sisters, daughters of Frank Walker. He was very wealthy and popular. 
I knew his father, too, Col. Walker. He used to wear short breeches 


and shoebuckles. It wasn't long before Dolphin was back, and I told 
Mr. Jefferson. He laughed and said, Ton treat him so much better 
than anybody else will, that he will come back and see you.' When 
Mr. Nelson's overseer came over for him I asked htm how old he 
supposed he was. He said he could not tell. I then told him his history. 
He took him off, and we never saw any more of Dolphin. 

"Mr. Jefferson was very particular in the transaction of all his busi- 
ness. He kept an account of every thing. Nothing was too small for him 
to keep an account of. He knew exactly how much of every thing was 
raised at each plantation, and what became of it; how much was sold, 
and how much fed out. Here is one of his little crop accounts. [Esti- 
mate of grain for forty weeks omitted.] All the overseers had such. 
Some of them used to grumble over them mightily. But I told them 
we were paid by Mr. Jefferson to attend to his business, and we ought 
to do it exactly as he wanted it done. One of them to whom I gave 
one of these little papers one day, after fretting a good deal about 
it, said, Well, I believe if Mr. Jefferson told you to go into the fire, 
you would follow his instructions/ 

"I reported to Mr. Jefferson every dollar that I received and just 
what I paid it out for. The first day of every January I gave him a full 
list of all the servants, stock, and every thing on the place, so that he 
could see exactly what had been the gain or loss. In all his business 
transactions with people, he had every thing put down in writing, so 
that there was no chance for any misunderstanding. There was quite 
a village at Milton. It was the head of navigation for bateaux. A great 
deal of flour, grain, and other produce was brought from the western 
part of the State and shipped there, the wagons carrying back groce- 
ries and other things that the bateaux had brought from Richmond. 
This and other business employed a good many families. Nearly all 
the families in Milton were supplied with firewood from Mr. Jeffer- 
son's estate. They paid him five dollars a year for what wood they 
would burn in a fireplace. Mr. Jefferson wrote a blank form for me, 
and I made a written contract with all the people who got their fire- 
wood from his place, and once a year I went around and made collec- 
tions. Here is the blank form that he wrote for rne that I filled out, 
and from which I copied all these contracts for wood: 

** 'These presents witness that the subscriber, Thomas Jefferson, 
has leased to the subscriber, James Marr, of the town of Milton, a 
right, in common with other lessees, to cut and take away suf- 

Recollections of Jefferson's Overseer at Monticello 73 

ficient firewood for one fireplace from trie lands of the said 
Thomas Jefferson, on the south side of the road leading through 
from Milton towards Colle, for the year which began on the 1st 
day of October last past, and ending the 1st day of October of 
the present year, 1813; the said James Marr yielding and paying 
to the said Thomas Jefferson five dollars on the 1st day of October 
closing the year, which he covenants to do ? and it is further 
agreed that this lease, and on the same conditions, shall continue 
from year to year until notice to the contrary be given by either 
party to the other. Witness their hands this 6th day of February, 
1813. Th. Jefferson. 

James Marr. 
" Witness, 

" 'E. Bacon.' 

"He was just as particular as this with all his business. Whenever I 
engaged an overseer for him, or any kind of a mechanic, I always 
made a written contract with him, that stated just what he was to do, 
and just what pay he was to receive. In this way he avoided all dif- 
ficulties with the men he employed. I used to write Mr. Jefferson's 
name so often to contracts that I made for him, that I could imitate 
his signature almost exactly. A good many people could not tell 
whether he or I had written his name. Here is one of my contracts 
with a carpenter, written and signed by myself for Mr. Jefferson: 

" It is agreed between Thomas Jefferson and Richard Durrett 
both of the county of Albemarle, that the said Durrett shall serve 
the said Jefferson one year as a carpenter. And the said Durrett 
does by these presents oblige himself to do whatever work the 
said Jefferson shall require in the business of carpenter work; 
and the said Durrett obliges himself to faithfully do his duty. 
The year commences on the day that the said Durrett shall take 
charge of the said Jefferson's employ; for which year's service 
the said Jefferson agrees to pay the said Durrett forty pounds, 
and to find him four hundred and fifty pounds of pork, and a 
peck of corn meal a week; or, in case the said Durrett should 
have three in the family, the said Jefferson agrees to find him 
three pecks a week, and to find him a cow to give milk from 15th 
April to 15th November. As witness our hands this 28th of 
October, 1812. "'Richard Durrett. 

"*E. Bacon, for 
" 'Th. Jefferson/ " 


Mr Jefferson was a tall strait-bodied man as ever you see, right square- 
shouldered: nary man in this town walked so straight as my old master: 
neat a built man as ever was seen in Vaginny, I reckon or any place 
a straight-up man: long face, high nose. 

Jefferson Randolph ( Mr. Jefferson's grandson) nothing like him, ex- 
cept in height tall, like him: not built like him: old master was a 
Straight-up man. Jefferson Randolph pretty much like his mother. 
Old master wore Vaginny cloth & a red waistcoat, (all the gentlemen 
wore red waistcoats in dem days) & small clothes: arter dat he used 
to wear red breeches too. Governor Page used to come up there to 
Monticello, wife & daughter wid him: drove four-in-hand: servants 
John, Molly &: a postilion. Patrick Hemy visited old master: coach & 
two: his face for all the world like the images of Bonaparte: would 
stay a week or more. Mann Page used to be at Monticello a plain 
mild-looking man: his wife & daughter along with him. Dr Thomas 
Walker lived about ten miles from Monticello a thin-faced man. 
John Walker (of Belvoir), his brother, owned a great many black 


Old master was never seen to come out before breakfast about 8 
o'clock. If it was warm weather he would'nt ride out till evening: 
studied upstars till bell ring for dinner. When writing he had a copyin 

From Memoirs of a Monticello Slave: As Dictated to Charles Campbell in 
the 1840' s by Isaac, one of Thomas Jefferson's Slaves, edited by Rayford W. 
Logan. Charlottes ville: The Tracy W. McGregor Library. Copyright 1951 by 
the University of Virginia. Reprinted by permission. 

The work is divided into twenty brief chapters; the excerpts here are chapters 
eight, nine, and ten in their entirety. Footnotes omitted. 


Recollections of a Monticello Slave 75 

machine: while he was a-writin he would'nt suffer nobody to come 
in his room: had a dumb-waiter: When he wanted anything he had 

j C? 

nothing to do but turn a crank & the dumb-waiter would bring him 
water or fruit on a plate or anything he wanted. Old master had 
abundance of books: sometimes would have twenty of 'em down on 
the floor at once: read fust one, then tother. Isaac has often wondered 
how old master came to have such a mighty head: read so many of 
them books: & when they go to him to ax him anything, he go right 
straight to the book & tell you all about it. He talked French & 
Italian. Madzay [Philip Mazzei] talked with him: his place was 
called Colle. General Redhazel [Riedesel] stayed there. He (Mazzei) 
lived at Monticello with old master some time: Didiot a Frenchman 
married his daughter Peggy: a heavy chunky looking woman 
mighty handsome: She had a daughter Frances & a son Francis: called 
the daughter Franky. Mazzei brought to Monticello Antonine, 
Jovanini, Francis, Modena & Belligrini, all gardiners. My old master's 
garden was monstrous large: two rows of pailings, all round ten feet 


Mr Jefferson had a clock in his kitchen at Monticello; never went 
into the kitchen except to wind up the clock. He never would have 
less than eight covers at dinner if nobody at table but himself: had 
from eight to thirty two covers for dinner: plenty of wine, best old 
Antigua rum & cider: very fond of wine & water. Isaac never heard 
of his being disguised in drink. He kept three fiddles: played in the 
arternoons & sometimes arter supper. This was in his early time: 
When he begin to git so old he did'nt play: kept a spinnet made 
mostly in shape of a harpsichord: his daughter played on it. Mr 
Fauble a Frenchman that lived at Mr Walker's a music-man used 
to come to Monticello & tune it. There was a forte piano & a guitar 
there: never seed anybody play on them but the French people. Isaac 
never could git acquainted with them: could hardly larn their names. 
Mr Jefferson always singing when ridin or walkin: hardly see him 
anywhar out doors but what he was a-singin: had a fine clear voice, 
sung minnits (minuets) & sich: fiddled in the parlor. Old master 
very kind to servants. 



On Thursday the 2nd of February, Mr. Ticknor and myself at half 
after three o'clock A.M. with each a small bundle left Richmond in the 
stage coach for Charlottesville in the County of Albemarle, in order to 
pay a visit to Mr. Jefferson, to whom we both had letters from Mr. 
Adams. At twelve miles from town we passed Tuckahoe Creek and 
soon after reached our breakfasting house, where, for the first time in 
my life, I sat down to table with the landlord and his wife, and we 
continued to do so during the whole ride to Charlotte. We were here 
told that all the people east of the mountains call those on the west 
[side] cohees, and are called by them Tuckahoes. The first is Irish, 
from which nation the valley was first settled, and the latter the In- 
dian name of a vegetable growing in the southern and eastern parts of 
Virginia eaten by the hogs and perhaps formerly by the inhabitants. 
( This vegetable I once supposed to be the truffle, but find from Mr. 
Jefferson that it certainly is not so) . 

On leaving our breakfasting house we rode for sixteen miles 
through a fine country along the northern bank of [the] James River, 
soon quitting the country of coal in the centre of which is situated 
the inn at which we had breakfasted fourteen miles from Richmond. 
In several of the houses at which we stopped the whiskey drunk by 
the passengers did not form an item in the bill as they were private 
not public houses, i.e. they had no license. 

At forty-five miles from Richmond according to the regular course 
of the stage we slept the first night. On the next day we passed 
through a miserable barren country covered with pines and found a 
ford at Junk Creek half frozen over and in quite as bad a state as the 
Matawoman. But our white driver with a spirit of industry far 
superior to that of the Maryland black, broke the ice before his horses 
and carried them through without difficulty. (A dead horse was lying 

From Thomas Jefferson in 1814: Being an account of a visit to Monticello, 
Virginia, by Francis Galley Gray. With notes and introduction by Henry S. Rowe 
and T. Jefferson Coolidge, Jr. Boston, 1924. Copyright 1924 by the Club of Odd 
Volumes. Reprinted by permission. 

The visit was in fact made in February 1815. 


Two Proper Joung Bostonians Visit Jefferson in 1815 77 

on the farther bank, who had been drowned in attempting to pass). 
We overtook, particularly on the first day, many soldiers of the militia 
who had been in the service of the United States six months at Nor- 
folk without winter clothing, exposed to three epidemics which deso- 
lated their camp, the ague and fever, the typhus, and the throat dis- 
temper, and were now discharged without pay. Many of them had 
not sufficient money to procure food and some, as we were told, had 
eaten nothing for thirty hours. The country constantly ascended as 
we proceeded west and on Friday soon after noon, we crossed the 
North River at the Ford near Milton and soon reached Monticello, 
between which and another mountain belonging to Mr. Jefferson, 
passed our road to Charlottesville, at which town we dined, It con- 
tains a few brick houses, a court house very large and a stone gaol, 
the basement story of which is occupied as shops by a couple of 
saddlers. This town, though the largest in this part of the country, 
contains no meeting-house, nor is there any within seven miles, but 
divine service is performed here in the court house every other Sun- 
day. On Saturday it rained and at twelve o'clock we went from our 
tavern in a hack to* Monticello, three miles east of Charlottes ville on 
the same road we had passed the day before. Our road passed be- 
tween Monticello and the S. W. mountain which is much higher and 
along whose side runs the narrow path which led us between these 
hills to the gate on the S. E. side of Monticello. The sides of both 
these hills and the valley between them are covered with a noble 
forest of oaks in all stages of growth and of decay, Their trunks 
straight and tall put forth no branches till they reach a height almost 
equal to tlie summits of our loftiest trees in New England. Those 
which, were rooted in the valley, in the richest soil overtopped many 
which, sprung from spots far above them on the side of the mountain. 
The forest had evidently been abandoned to nature; some of the 
trees were decaying from age, some were blasted, some were up- 
rooted by the wind and some appeared even to have been twisted 
from their trunks by the violence of a hurricane. They rendered the 
approach to the house even at this season of the year extremely grand 
and imposing. On reaching the house we found no bell nor knocker 
and, entering through the hall in the parlour, saw a gentleman (Col 
Randolph ), who took our letters to Mr. Jefferson. 

Mr. Jefferson soon made his appearance, [In the margin: Mr. J, 
72 yrs. old.] He is quite tall, six feet, one or two inches, face streaked 


and speckled with red, light gray eyes, white hair, dressed in shoes 
of very thin soft leather with pointed toes and heels ascending in a 
peak behind, with very short quarters, grey worsted stockings, cordu- 
roy small clothes, blue waistcoat and coat, of stiff thick cloth made of 
the wool of his own merinos and badly manufactured, the buttons 
of his coat and small clothes of horn, and an under waistcoat flannel 
bound with red velvet. His figure bony, long and with broad 
shoulders, a true Virginian. He begged he might put up our carriage, 
send for our baggage and keep us with him some time. We assented 
and he left the room to give the necessary directions, sending as we 
requested the carriage back to Charlottesville. On looking round the 
room in which we sat the first thing which attracted our attention was 
the state of the chairs. They had leather bottoms stuffed with hair, 
but the bottoms were completely worn through and the hair sticking 
out in all directions; on the mantle-piece which was large and of 
marble were many books of all kinds, Livy, Orosius, Edinburg Re- 
view, 1 vol. of EdgewortKs Moral Tales, etc., etc. There were many 
miserable prints and some fine pictures hung round the room, among 
them two plans for the completion of the Capitol at Washington, 
one of them very elegant. A harpsichord stood in one corner of the 
room. There were four double windows from the wall to the floor 
of fine large glass and a recess in one side of the apartment. This was 
the breakfasting room. After half an hour's conversation with Mr. 
Jefferson and Col. Randolph, we were invited into the parlour where 
a fire was just kindled and a servant occupied in substituting a wooden 
pannel for a square of glass, which had been broken in one of the 
folding doors opening on the lawn. Mr. Jefferson had procured the 
glass for his house in Bohemia, where the price is so much the square 
foot whatever be the size of the glass purchased, and these panes 
were so large that, unable to replace the square in this part of the 
country, he had been obliged to send to Boston to have some glass 
made of sufficient size to replace that broken, and this had not yet 
been received. 

We passed the whole forenoon, which was rainy, in conversation 
with Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Randolph and at four o'clock toddy was 
brought us, which neither of us took, and which was never after 
handed again, and we were ushered back into the breakfast room to 
dinner, where we were introduced to Mrs. Randolph, Miss Randolph, 
and Mr. T. J. Randolph. The rest of the family at table were Mrs. 

Two Proper Young Bostonians Visit Jefferson in 1815 79 

Marks, a sister of Mr. Jefferson and two other daughters of Col. 

The drinking cups were of silver marked G. W. to T. J., the table 
liquors were beer and cider and after dinner wine. In the same room 
we took tea and at ten in the evening retired. Fires -were lighted in 
our bedrooms and again in the morning before we rose and the beds 
were all in recesses. 

At fifteen minutes after eight we heard the first breakfast bell and 
at nine, the second, whose sound assembled us in the breakfast room. 
We sat an hour after breakfast chatting with the ladies and then 
adjourned to the parlour. Mr. Jefferson gave us the catalogue of his 
books to examine and soon after conducted us to his library, and 
passed an hour there in pointing out to us its principal treasures. His 
collection of ancient classics was complete as to the authors, but 
very careless in the editions. They were generally interleaved with 
the best English Translations. The Ancient English authors were 
also all here and some very rare editions of them. A black letter 
Chaucer and the first of Milton's Paradise Lost, divided into ten 
books, were the most remarkable. A considerable number of books 
valuable to the Biblical critic were here, and various ancient editions 
of all the genuine and apocryphal books, Erasmus' edition, etc. Many 
of the most valuable works on the civil and maritime law and on 
diplomacy, together with a complete collection of the laws of the 
different states, those of Virginia in manuscript, and all the old 
elementary writers and reporters of England formed the legal library. 
The ancient and most distinguished modern historians render this 
department nearly complete, and the histories and descriptions of 
the Kingdoms of Asia were remarkably numerous. Rapin was here 
in French, though very rare in that language. Mr. Jefferson said that 
after all it was still the best history of England, for Hume's tory 
principles are to him insupportable. The best mode of counteracting 
their effect is, he thinks, to publish an edition of Hume expunging all 
those reflections and reasonings whose influence is so injurious. This 
has been attempted by Baxter, but he has injured the work by mak- 
ing other material abridgements. D'Avila was there in Italian, in 
Mr. Jefferson's opinion, one of the most entertaining books he ever 
read. I was surprised to find here two little volumes on Chronology 
by Count Potocki of St. Petersburg. Mr. Jefferson has also a fine col- 
lection of Saxon and Moeso Gothic books, among them Alfred's 
translations of Orosius and Boethius, and shewed us some attempts 


he had made at facilitating the study of this language. He thought 
the singularity of the letters one of the greatest difficulties and pro- 
posed publishing the Saxon books in four columns, the first to con- 
tain the Saxon, the second the same in Roman characters, the third 
a strictly verbal translation and the fourth a free one. Mr. Jefferson 
said the French dictionary of Trevoux was better than that of the 
Academy, thought Charron's "de la Sagesse" an excellent work and 
brought us a commentary and review on Montesquieu published by 
Duane the translator from the French manuscript [by Destutt de 
Tracy], which he called the best book on politics which had been 
published for a century and agreed with its author in his opinion of 

Of all branches of learning, however, that relating to the history 
of North and South America is the most perfectly displayed in this 
library. The collection on this subject is without a question the most 
valuable in the world. Here are the works of all the Spanish travellers 
in America and the great work of De Brie in which he has collected 
latin translations of the smaller works published by the earliest 
visitors of America whose original publications are now lost. It is 
finely printed and adorned with many plates. Here also is a copy 
of the letters of Fernando Cortes in Spanish, one of a small edition, 
and the copy retained by the Editor the Cardinal Archbishop of 
'Toledo for himself, but given by him to the American Consul for Mr. 
Jefferson. This work contains the official letters of Cortes to his 
court, his maps of the country and plates representing the dresses, 
armour and other contents of the treasury of the Mexican Sovereigns. 
We saw here also some beautiful modern manuscripts, one of a work 
which had been suppressed in France, most of the Greek Romances. 

Mr. Jefferson took us from his library into his bed chamber where, 
on a table before the fire, stood a polygraph with which he said he 
always wrote. 

Mr. Jefferson took his accustomed ride before dinner and on his 
return told us that the ice was crowded and thick on the banks of 
the Bivanna and had carried away thirty feet of his mill-dam. This 
was all he said on the subject and from his manner I supposed his 
loss was probably about one or two hundred dollars, but on our ride 
back to Richmond we heard it everywhere spoken of as a serious loss 
and the countrymen, some of them, even estimated it at $30,000. This 
to be sure must have been a most wonderful miscalculation, but no 
doubt the loss was serious. 





Charlottesville, February 7,1815 

We left Charlottesville on Saturday morning, the 4th of February, 
for Mr. Jefferson's. He lives, you know, on a mountain, which he has 
named Monticello, and which, perhaps you do not know, is a syno- 
nyme for Carter's mountain. The ascent of this steep, savage hill, was 
as pensive and slow as Satan's ascent to Paradise. We were obliged 
to wind two thirds round its sides before we reached the artificial 
lawn on which the house stands; and when we had arrived there., we 
were about six hundred feet, I understand, above the stream which 
flows at its foot. It is an abrupt mountain. The fine growth of ancient 
forest-trees conceals its sides and shades part of its summit. The 
prospect is admirable. . . . The lawn on the top, as I hinted, was arti- 
ficially formed by cutting down the peak of the height.' In its centre, 
and facing the southeast, Mr. Jefferson has placed his house, which 
is of brick, two stories high in the wings, with a piazza in front of a 
receding centre. It is built, I suppose, in the French style. You enter, 
by a glass folding-door, into a hall which reminds you of Fielding's 
"Man of the Mountain," by the strange furniture of its walls. On one 
side hang the head and horns of an elk, a deer, and a buffalo; another 
is covered with curiosities which Lewis and Clarke found in their 
wild and perilous expedition. On the third, among many other strik- 
ing matters, was the head of a mammoth, or, as Cuvier calls it, a mas- 
todon, containing the only as frontis, Mr. Jefferson tells me, that has 
yet been found. On the fourth side, in odd union with a fine painting 
of the Repentance of Saint Peter, is an Indian map on leather, of the 
southern waters of the Missouri, and an Indian representation of a 
bloody battle, handed down in their traditions. 

From Life, Letters, and Journals of George Ticknor. Boston, 1876. 



Through this hallor rather museum we passed to the dining- 
room, and sent our letters to Mr. Jefferson, who was of course in his 
study. Here again we found ourselves surrounded with paintings that 
seemed good. 

We had hardly time to glance at the pictures before Mr. Jefferson 
entered; and if I was astonished to find Mr. Madison short and some- 
what awkward, I was doubly astonished to find Mr. Jefferson, whom 
I had always supposed to be a small man, more than six feet high, 
with dignity in his appearance, and ease and graciousness in his 
manners. . . . He rang, and sent to Charlottesville for our baggage, 
and, as dinner approached, took us to the drawing-room, a large and 
rather elegant room, twenty or thirty feet high, which, with the hall 
I have described, composed the whole centre of the house, from top 
to bottom. The floor of this room is tessellated. It is f ormed of alternate 
diamonds of cherry and beech, and kept polished as highly as if it 
were of fine mahogany. 

Here are the best pictures of the collection. Over the fireplace is 
the Laughing and Weeping Philosophers, dividing the world between 
them; on its right, the earliest navigators to America, Columbus, 
Americus Vespuccius, Magellan, etc., copied, Mr. Jefferson said ? 
from originals in the Florence Gallery. Farther round, Mr. Madison 
in the plain, Quaker-like dress of his youth, Lafayette in his Revolu- 
tionary uniform, and Franklin in the dress in which we always see 
him. There were other pictures, and a copy of Raphael's Transfigura- 

We conversed on various subjects until dinner-time, and at dinner 
were introduced to the grown members of his family. These are his 
only remaining child, Mrs. Randolph, her husband, Colonel Ran- 
dolph, and the two oldest of their unmarried children, Thomas Jeffer- 
son and Ellen; and I assure you I have seldom met a pleasanter 

The evening passed away pleasantly in general conversation, of 
which Mr. Jefferson was necessarily the leader. I shall probably 
surprise you by saying that, in conversation, he reminded me of Dr. 
Freeman. He has the same discursive manner and love of paradox, 
with the same appearance of sobriety and cool reason. He seems 
equally fond of American antiquities, and especially the antiquities 
of his native State, and talks of them with freedom and, I suppose, 
accuracy. He has, too, the appearance of that fairness and simplicity 

Two Proper Toung Bostonians Visit Jefferson in 1815 S3 

which Dr. Freeman has; and, if the parallel holds no further here, 
they will again meet on the ground of their love of old books and 
young society. 

On Sunday morning, after breakfast, Mr. Jefferson asked me into 
his library, and there I spent the forenoon of that day as I had that 
of yesterday. This collection of books, now so much talked about, 
consists of about seven thousand volumes, contained in a suite of fine 
rooms, and is arranged in the catalogue, and on the shelves, accord- 
ing to the divisions and subdivisions of human learning by Lord 
Bacon. In so short a time I could not, of course, estimate its value, 
even if I had been competent to do so. 

Perhaps the most curious single specimen or, at least, the most 
characteristic of the man and expressive of his hatred of royalty- 
was a collection which he had bound up in six volumes, and lettered 
"The Book of Kings/* consisting of the "Memoir es de la Princesse de 
Bareith," two volumes; "Les Memoires de la Comtesse de la Motte," 
two volumes; the "Trial of the Duke of York/* one volume; and "The 
Book," one volume. These documents of regal scandal seemed to be 
favorites with the philosopher, who pointed them out to me with a 
satisfaction somewhat inconsistent with the measured gravity he 
claims in relation to such subjects generally. 

On Monday morning I spent a couple of hours with him in his 
study. He gave me there an account of the manner in which he passed 
the portion of his time in Europe which he could rescue from public 
business; told me that while he was in France he had formed a plan 
of going to Italy, Sicily, and Greece, and that he should have executed 
it, if he had not left Europe in the full conviction that he should 
immediately return there, and find a better opportunity. He spoke 
of my intention to go, and, without my even hinting any purpose to 
ask him for letters, told me that he was now seventy-two years old, 
and that most of his friends and correspondents in Europe had died 
in the course of the twenty-seven years since he left France, but that 
he would gladly furnish me with the means of becoming acquainted 
with some of the remainder, if I would give him a month's notice, 
and regretted that their number was so reduced. 

The afternoon and evening passed as on the two days previous; 
for everything is done with such regularity, that when you know how 
one day is filled, I suppose you know how it is with the others. At 
eight o'clock the first bell is rung in the great hall, and at nine the 


second summons you to the breakfast-room, where you find every- 
thing ready. After breakfast everyone goes, as inclination leads him, 
to his chamber, the drawing room, or the library. The children retire 
to their school-room with their mother, Mr. Jefferson rides to his 
mills on the Rivanna, and returns at about twelve. At half past three 
the great bell rings, and those who are disposed resort to the drawing- 
room, and the rest go to the dining-room at the second call of the 
bell, which is at four o'clock. The dinner was always choice, and 
served in the French style; but no wine was set on the table till the 
cloth was removed. The ladies sat until about six, then retired, but 
returned with the tea-tray a little before seven, and spent the eve- 
ning with the gentlemen; which was always pleasant, for they are 
obviously accustomed to join in the conversation, however high the 
topic may be. At about half past ten, which seemed to be their usual 
hour of retiring, I went to my chamber, found there a fire, candle, 
and a servant in waiting to receive my orders for the morning, and 
in the morning was waked by his return to build the fire. 

To-day, Tuesday, we told Mr. Jefferson that we should leave Mon- 
ticello in the afternoon. He seemed much surprised, and said as much 
as politeness would permit on the badness of the roads and the pros- 
pect of bad weather, to induce us to remain longer. It was evident, I 
thought, that they had calculated on our staying a week. At dinner, 
Mr. Jefferson again urged us to stay, not in an oppressive way, but 
with kind politeness; and when the horses were at the door, asked 
if he should not send them away; but, as he found us resolved on 
going, he bade us farewell in the heartiest style of Southern hospi- 
tality, after thrice reminding me that I must write to him for letters 
to his friends in Europe. I came away almost regretting that the 
coach returned so soon, and thinking, with General Hamilton, that 
he was a perfect gentleman in his own house. 

Two little incidents which occurred while we were at Monticello 
should not be passed by. The night before we left, young Randolph 
came up late from Charlottesville, and brought the astounding news 
that the English had been defeated before New Orleans by General 
Jackson. Mr. Jefferson had made up his mind that the city would fall, 
and told me that the English would hold it permanently or for some 
timeby a force of Sepoys from the East Indies. He had gone to bed, 
like the rest of us; but of course his grandson went to his chamber 
with the paper containing the news. But the old philosopher refused 

Two Proper Joung Eostonians Visit Jefferson in 1815 85 

to open his door, saying he could wait till the morning; and when 
we met at breakfast I found he had not yet seen it. 

One morning, when he came back from his ride, he told Mr. Ran- 
dolph, very quietly, that the dam had been carried away the night 
before. From his manner, I supposed it an affair of small consequence, 
but at Charlottesville, on my way to Richmond, I found the country 
ringing with it. Mr. Jefferson's great dam was gone, and it would 
cost $30,000 to rebuild it 

There is a breathing of notional philosophy in Mr. Jefferson, in 
his dress, his house, his conversation. His setness, for instance, in 
wearing very sharp toed shoes, corduroy small-clothes, and red 
plush waistcoat, which have been laughed at till he might perhaps 
wisely have dismissed them. 

So, though he told me he thought Charron, "De la Sagesse," the 
best treatise on moral philosophy ever written, and an obscure Review 
of Montesquieu, by Dupont de Nemours, the best political work 
that had been printed for fifty years, though he talked very freely 
of the natural impossibility that one generation should bind another 
to pay a public debt, and of the expediency of vesting all the legisla- 
tive authority of a State in one branch, and the executive authority 
in another, and leaving them to govern it by joint discretion, I con- 
sidered such opinions simply as curious indicia of an extraordinary 



Having an introduction to Mr. Jefferson, I ascended his little moun- 
tain on a fine morning, which gave the situation its due effect. The 
whole of the sides and base are covered with forest, through which 
roads have been cut circularly, so that the winding may be shortened 
or prolonged at pleasure: the summit is an open lawn, near to the 
south side of which, the house is built, with its garden just descend- 
ing the brow: the saloon, or central hall, is ornamented with several 
pieces of antique sculpture, Indian arms, Mammoth bones, and other 
curiosities collected from various parts of the Union, I found Mr. 
Jefferson tall in person, but stooping and lean with old age; thus 
exhibiting that fortunate mode of bodily decay, which strips the 
frame of its most cumbersome parts, leaving it still strength of muscle 
and activity of limb: his deportment was exactly such as the Marquis 
de Chastellux describes it, above thirty years ago: "At first serious, 
nay even cold," but in a very short time relaxing into a most agree- 
able amenity; with an unabated flow of conversation on the most 
interesting topics, discust in the most gentlemanly, and philosophical 
manner. I walked with him round his grounds, to visit his pet trees, 
and improvements of various kinds; during the walk, he pointed out 
to my observation a conical mountain, rising singly at the edge of the 
southern horizon of the landscape: its distance he said, was 40 miles, 
and its dimensions those of the greater Egyptian pyramid; so that it 
accurately represents the appearance of the pyramid at the same dis- 
tance; there is a small cleft visible on its summit, through which, the 
true meridian of Monticello exactly passes: its most singular prop- 
erty, however, is, that on different occasions it looms, or alters its 
appearance, becoming sometimes cylindrical, sometimes square, 
and sometimes assuming the form of an inverted cone. Mr. Jefferson 

From Travels in Canada, and the United States, in 1816 and 1817, by Lieut. 
Francis Hall, 14th Light Dragoons, H. P. Second Edition. London, 1819. 


A Visit to Monticello in 1817 87 

had not been able to connect this phenomenon with any particular 
season, or state of the atmosphere, except, that it most commonly 
occurred in the forenoon; he observed, that it was not only wholly 
unaccounted for by the laws of vision, but that it had not as yet 
engaged the attention of philosophers so far as to acquire a name; 
that of looming, being in fact, a term applied by sailors, to appear- 
ances of a similar kind at sea. The Blue Mountains are also observed 
to loom, though not in so remarkable a degree. 

It must be interesting to recall and preserve the political sentiments 
of a man who has held so distinguished a station in public life as 
Mr. Jefferson. He seemed to consider much of the freedom and 
happiness of America, to arise from local circumstances: "Our popu- 
lation," he observed, "has an elasticity, by which it would fly off from 
oppressive taxation/' He instanced the beneficial effects of a free 
government, in the case of New Orleans, where many proprietors 
who were in a state of indigence under the dominion of Spain, have 
risen to sudden wealth, solely by the rise in the value of land, which 
followed a change of government. Their ingenuity in mechanical 
inventions, agricultural improvements, and that mass of general 
information to be found among Americans of all ranks and condi- 
tions, he ascribed to that ease of circumstances, which afforded them 
leisure to cultivate their minds, after the cultivation of their lands 
was completed. In fact, I have frequently been surprised to find 
mathematical and other useful works in houses which seemed to 
have little pretension to the luxury of learning. Another cause, Mr. 
Jefferson observed, might be discovered in the many court and 
county meetings, which brought men frequently together on public 
business, and thus gave them habits, both of thinking and of express- 
ing their thoughts on subjects, which in other countries are confined 
to the consideration of the privileged few. Mr. Jefferson has not the 
reputation of being very friendly to England: we should, however, 
be aware, that a partiality in this respect, is not absolutely the duty 
of an American citizen; neither is it to be expected that the policy 
of our government should be regarded in foreign countries, with the 
same complacency with which it is looked upon by ourselves: but 
whatever may be his sentiments in this respect, politeness naturally 
represt any offensive expression of them: he talked of our affairs with 
candour, and apparent good-will, though leaning, perhaps, to the 
gloomier side of the picture. He did not perceive by what means we 


could be extricated from our present financial embarrassments, with- 
out some kind of revolution in our government: on my replying, that 
our habits were remarkably steady, and that great sacrifices would 
be made to prevent a violent catastrophe, he acceded to the observa- 
tion, but demanded, if those who made the sacrifices, would not 
require some political reformation in return. His repugnance was 
strongly marked to the despotic principles of Bonaparte, and he 
seemed to consider France under Louis XVI. as scarcely capable of 
a republican form of government; but added, that the present genera- 
tion of Frenchmen had grown up with sounder notions, which would 
probably lead to their emancipation. . . . 

I slept a night at Monticello, and left it in the morning, with such 
a feeling as the traveller quits the mouldering remains of a Grecian 
temple, or the pilgrim a fountain in the desert. It would indeed argue 
great torpor, both of understanding and heart, to have looked with- 
out veneration and interest, on the man who drew up the declaration 
of American independence; who shared in the councils by which her 
freedom was established; whom the unbought voice of his fellow- 
citizens called to the exercise of a dignity, from which his own 
moderation impelled him, when such example was most salutary, to 
withdraw; and who, while he dedicates the evening of his glorious 
days to the pursuits of science and literature, shuns none of the hum- 
bler duties of private life; but, having filled a seat higher than that 
of kings, succeeds with graceful dignity to that of the good neigh- 
bour, and becomes the friendly adviser, lawyer, physician, and even 
gardener of his vicinity. This is the "still small voice" of philosophy, 
deeper and holier than the lightnings and earthquakes which have 
preceded it. What monarch would venture thus to exhibit himself in 
the nakedness of his humanity? On what royal brow would the laurel 
replace the diadem? But they who are born and educated to be kings, 
are not expected to be philosophers. That is a just answer, though 
no great compliment either to the governors or the governed. 

My travels had nearly terminated at the Rivannah, which flows at 
the foot of Monticello: in trying to ford it, my horse and waggon 
were carried down the stream: I escaped with my servant, and by 
the aid of Mr. Jefferson's domestics, we finally succeeded in extricat- 
ing my equipage from a watery grave. The road to Richmond follows 
the James River, and has few features to attract notice. There are no 
towns, and very few villages. . . . 


Mr. Jefferson is now between eighty-one and eighty-two, above six 
feet high, of an ample long frame, rather thin and spare. His head, 
which is not peculiar in its shape, is set rather forward on his shoul- 
ders; and his neck being long, there is, when he is walking or convers- 
ing, an habitual protrusion of it It is still well covered with hair, 
which having been once red, and now turning gray, is of an indistinct 
sandy color. 

His eyes are small, very light, and now neither brilliant nor striking. 
His chin is rather long, but not pointed. His nose small, regular in 
its outline, and the nostrils a little elevated. His mouth is well formed 
and still filled with teeth; it is strongly compressed, bearing an expres- 
sion of contentment and bears the marks of age and cutaneous affec- 
tion. His limbs are uncommonly long; his hands and feet very large, 
and his wrists of an extraordinary size. His walk is not precise and 
military, but easy and swinging. He stoops a little, not so much from 
age as from a natural formation. When sitting, he appears short, 
partly from a rather lounging habit of sitting, and partly from the 
disproportionate length of his limbs. 

His dress, when in the house, is a gray surtout coat, kerseymere 
stuff waistcoat, with an under one faced with some material of a 
dingy red. His pantaloons are very long and loose, and of the same 
color as his coat. His stockings are woollen either white or gray; and 
his shoes of the kind that bear his name. His whole dress is very much 
neglected, but not slovenly. He wears a common round hat. His 
dress, when on horseback, is a gray straight-bodied coat and a spen- 
cer of the same material, both fastened with large pearl buttons. 
When we first saw him, he was riding; and, in addition to the above 
articles of apparel, wore round his throat a knit white woollen tippet, 

From The Writings and Speeches of Daniel Webster, edited by Fletcher 
Webster. Boston, 1903. Volume 17. 



in the place of a cravat, and black velvet gaiters under his pantaloons. 
His general appearance indicates an extraordinary degree of health, 
vivacity, and spirit. His sight is still good, for he needs glasses only 
in the evening. His hearing is generally good, but a number of voices 
in animated conversation confuses it. 

Mr. Jefferson rises in the morning as soon as he can see the hands 
of his clock, which is directly opposite his bed, and examines his 
thermometer immediately, as he keeps a regular meteorological 
diary. He employs himself chiefly in writing till breakfast, which is 
at nine. From that time, till dinner, he is in his library, excepting 
that in fair weather he rides on horseback from seven to fourteen 
miles. Dines at four, returns to the drawing-room at six, when coffee 
is brought in, and passes the evening till nine in conversation. His 
habit of retiring at that hour is so strong, that it has become essential 
to his health and comfort. His diet is simple, but he seerns restrained 
only by his taste. His breakfast is tea and coffee, bread always fresh 
from the oven, of which he does not seem afraid, with sometimes a 
slight accompaniment of cold meat. He enjoys his dinner well, taking 
with his meat a large portion of vegetables. He has a strong prefer- 
ence for the wines of the continent, of which he has many sorts of 
excellent quality, having been more than commonly successful in 
his mode of importing and preserving them. Among others, we found 
the following, which are very rare in this country, and apparently not 
at all injured by transportation: L'Ednau, Muscat, Samian, and Blan- 
chette de Limoux. Dinner is served in half Virginian, half French 
style, in good taste and abundance. No wine is put on the table till 
the cloth is removed. 

In conversation, Mr. Jefferson is easy and natural, and apparently 
not ambitious; it is not loud, as challenging general attention, but 
usually addressed to the person next him. The topics, when not 
selected to suit the character and feelings of his auditor, are those 
subjects with which his mind seems particularly occupied; and these, 
at present, may be said to be science and letters, and especially the 
University of Virginia, which is coming into existence almost entirely 
from his exertions, and will rise, it is to be hoped, to usefulness and 
credit under his continued care. When we were with him, his favorite 
subjects were Greek and Anglo-Saxon, historical recollections of the 
times and events of the Revolution, and of his residence in France 
from 1783-4 to 1789. 



On the 25th of November, we set out for Charlotteville, thirty-two 
miles distant, passing over the Blue Ridge. The road is through a 
country little cultivated, and without a single village; and the num- 
ber of separate houses could scarcely be more than a dozen. After 
we had gone about five miles, we arrived at the western base of the 
Blue Ridge, which affords an agreeable view, being overgrown with 
wood up to the top. Then we entered a narrow valley, and when the 
road began to ascend, we alighted and walked over the mountains. I 
was surprised to find the road less steep than I expected, and it was 
also pretty good. From elevated places, the day being not so foggy 
as the preceding ones, we had many fine views of the mountains. The 
wood consisted of oak trees, and different kinds of nut trees; here and 
there were colossal fir, larch, Weymouth's pine and acacia trees. 
Evergreen rhododendrons, for which some amateurs in Europe spend 
a great deal of money, are growing here in abundance, also wild vines, 
which wind themselves round the trees. The prospect on the moun- 
tains would have been more pleasant, had there been some marks 
of human dwellings, but we saw only two miserable log houses, 
inhabited by dirty and ragged negro families, on the whole tract for 
eight miles over the mountains; and we met but a few carts loaded 
with flour. 

Having crossed the Blue Ridge, we arrived at a good-looking 
country house, and a mill called Brown's Farm, situated at the base 
of the mountains, and took our dinner there. This house is surrounded 
by fields belonging to it, and from its piazza there is a very fine view 
of the mountains. From this place we had yet twenty miles to Char- 
lotteville. The road became less hilly, at least we had no more moun- 
tains to cross; however, the road continued very rough, and we were 

From Travels Through North America. During the Years 1825 and 1826, by 
His Highness, Bernhard, Duke of Saxe-Weimar Eisenach. Philadelphia, 1828. 



rudely jolted. About eight o'clock in the evening we reached Char- 
lotteville, in which the houses appeared to be scattered. In its vicin- 
ity is a new establishment for education, called University of Vir- 
ginia. The next morning we went to see the university, which is one 
mile distant from the town. 

This establishment has been open since March, 1824, and it is said 
to have already one hundred and thirty students; but a spirit of insub- 
ordination has caused many of the pupils to be sent away. The 
buildings are all new, and yet some of them seem to threaten to fall 
in, which may be the case with several others also, being chiefly built 
of wood. The interior of the library was not yet finished, but accord- 
ing to its plan it will be a beautiful one. The dome is made after the 
model of the Pantheon in Rome, reduced on half. This place is intend- 
ed for public meetings of the academy: but it is said that an echo 
is heard in case of loud speaking, which renders the voice of the 
speaker unintelligible. 

Under the rotunda are three elliptical halls, the destination of 
which is not yet entirely determined. The set of columns on the out- 
side of this building, I was told is to be a very fine one; the capitals 
were made in Italy. 

As for the rest, the ten buildings on the right and left are not at 
all regularly built, but each of them in a different manner, so that 
there is no harmony in the whole, which prevents it from having a 
beautiful and majestic appearance. 

The garden walls of the lateral building are also in crooked lines, 
which gives them a singular but handsome appearance. The build- 
ings have been executed according to Mr. Jefferson's plan, and are 
his hobby; he is rector of the University, in the construction of which 
the state of Virginia is said to have laid out considerable sums of 

We addressed a gentleman whom we met by chance, in order to 
get some information, and we had every reason to be satisfied with 
his politeness. It was Dr. Dunglison, professor of medicine. He is an 
Englishman, and came last year with three other professors from 
Europe. He showed us the library, which was still inconsiderable, 
and has been provisionally arranged in a lecture room; it contained 
some German belles lettres works, among others a series of Kotze- 
bue's calendar of dramatic works. It was said a great quantity of 
books was coming from Europe. 

A Visit to Monticello in 1825 93 

The university is situated on a hill in a very healthy situation, and 
there is a very fine view of the Blue Ridge. President Jefferson invited 
us to a family dinner; but as in Charlotteville there is but a single 
hackney-coach, and this being absent, we were obliged to go the 
three miles to Monticello on foot. 

We went by a pathway, through well cultivated and enclosed 
fields, crossed a creek named Rivanna, passing on a trunk of a tree 
cut in a rough shape, and without rails; then ascended a steep hill 
overgrown with wood, and came on its top to Mr. Jefferson's house, 
which is in an open space, walled round with bricks, forming an 
oblong, whose shorter sides are rounded; on each of the longer sides 
are portals of four columns. 

The unsuccessful waiting for a carriage, and our long walk, caused 
such a delay, that we found the company at table when we entered; 
but Mr. Jefferson came very kindly to meet us, forced us to take our 
seats, and ordered dinner to be served up anew. He was an old man 
of eighty-six years of age, of tall stature, plain appearance, and long 
white hair. 

In conversation he was very lively, and his spirits, as also his hear- 
ing and sight, seemed not to have decreased at all with his advancing 
age. I found in him a man who retained his faculties remarkably 
well in his old age, and one would have taken him for a man of sixty. 
He asked me what I had seen in Virginia. I eulogized all tie places, 
that I was certain would meet with his approbation, and he seemed 
very much pleased. The company at the table, consisted of the family 
of his daughter, Mrs. Randolph, and of that of the professor of mathe- 
matics at the university, an Englishman, and of his wife. I turned the 
conversation to the subject of the university, and observed, that this 
was the favourite topic with Mr. Jefferson; he entertained very san- 
guine hopes as to the flourishing state of the university in future, and 
believed that it, and the Harvard University near Boston, would in 
a very short time be the only institutions, where the youth of the 
United States would receive a truly classical and solid education. 
After dinner we intended to take our leave, in order to return to 
Charlotteville; but Mr. Jefferson would not consent to it. He pressed 
us to remain for the night at his house. The evening was spent by the 
fire; a great deal was said about travels, and objects of natural history; 
the fine arts were also introduced, of which Mr. Jefferson was a great 
admirer. He spoke also of his travels in France, and the country on 


the Rhine, where he was very much pleased. His description of Vir- 
ginia is the best proof what an admirer he is of beauties of nature. 
He told us that it was only eight months since he could not ride on 
horseback; otherwise, he rode every day to visit the surrounding 
country; he entertained, however, hopes of being able to re-coin- 
inence the next spring his favourite exercise. Between nine and ten 
o'clock in the evening, the company broke up, and a handsome room 
was assigned to me. 

The next morning I took a walk round the house, and admired the 
beautiful panorama, which this spot presents. On the left, I saw the 
Blue Ridge, and between them and Monticello are smaller hills. 
Chaiiotteville and the University lay at my feet; before me, the 
valley of the Rivanna river, which farther on, makes its junction with 
the James river, and on my right was the flat part of Virginia, the 
extent of which is lost in distance; behind me was a towering hill, 
which limited the sight. The interior of the house was plain, and the 
furniture somewhat of an old fashion. In the entrance was a marble 
stove with Mr. Jefferson's bust, by Ceracchi. In the rooms hung 
several copies of the celebrated pictures of the Italian school, views 
of Monticello, Mount- Vernon, the principal buildings in Washington 
and Harper's Ferry; there were also an oil painting, and an engrav- 
ing of the Natural Bridge, views of Niagara by Vanderlin, a sketch 
of the large picture by Trumbull, representing the surrender at York- 
town, and a pen drawing of Hector's departure, by Benjamin West, 
presented by him to General Kosciuszko; finally, several portraits of 
Mr. Jefferson, among which the best was that in profile by Stuart. 
In the saloon there were two busts, one of Napoleon as first consul, 
and another of the Emperor Alexander. Mr. Jefferson admired Napo- 
leon's military talents, but did not love him. After breakfast, which 
we took with the family, we bid the respectable old man farewell, 
and set out upon our return on foot to Charlotteville. 

Mr. Jefferson tendered us the use of his carriage, but I declined, as 
I preferred walking in a fine and cool morning. In the afternoon we 
left Charlotteville, in a tolerably good stage, in order to go to Rich- 
mond, the chief town of Virginia, distant eighty miles. . . . 



Jefferson at 46. 


(Engraving from a physiognotrace portrait.) 
Courtesy of the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, and Mr. Howard C. Rice, Jr. 

Jefferson at 48. 

(Plaster from the lost original which belonged to Jefferson.) 
Courtesy of Mr. Fiske Kimball, Philadelphia Museum of Art 


Attributed to 


No more to subtle arts a prey, 
Which fearful of the eye of day; 

A nation's ruin plann'd: 
Now entering on th' auspicious morn. 
In which a people's hopes are born, 

What joy o'erspreads the land! 

While past events portended harm, 
And rais'd the spirit of alarm, 

Uncertain of the end: 
Ere all was lost, the prospect clear'd, 
And a bright star of hope appear'd, 

The People's chosen friend. 

Devoted to his country's cause, 
The rights of Man and equal Laws, 

His hallow'd pen was given: 
And now those Rights and Laws to save 
From sinking to an early grave 

He comes, employed by Heav'n. 

What joyful prospects rise before! 
Peace, Arts and Science hail our shore, 

And through the country spread: 
Long may these blessings be preserv'd 
And by a virtuous land deserv'd. 

With JEFFERSON our head. 

From The Thomas Jefferson Scrapbook, Alderman Library, University of 
Virginia. Courtesy Francis L. Berkeley, Jr., Curator of Manuscripts. 




Rejoice, ye States, rejoice, 

And spread the patriot flame; 

CalTd by a nation's voice; 

To save his country's fame; 

And dissipate increasing fears, 

Our favorite JEFFERSON appears, 

Let every heart unite, 

Th' eventful day to hail; 

When from the Freemen's Right, 
The people's hopes prevail; 

That hence may horrid faction cease, 

And honor be maintain'd with peace. 


Attributed to 

The gloomy night before us flies: 
The reign of terror now is o'er, 
Its gags, inquisitors and spies, 
Its hordes of harpies are no more. 

Rejoice! Columbia's sons, rejoice! 
To tyrants never bend the knee, 
But join with heart, and soul, and voice, 

O'er vast Columbia's varied clime, 
Her cities, forests, shores and dales, 
In rising majesty sublime, 
Immortal Liberty prevails. 

Rejoice! Columbia's Sons, 6-c. 

Hail! long expected glorious day! 
Illustrious, memorable morn; 
That freedom's fabric from decay 
Secures for millions yet unborn. 

Rejoice! Columbia's sons, i?c. 

From The Thomas Jefferson Scrapbook, Alderman Library, University of 
Virginia. Courtesy Francis L. Berkeley, Jr., Curator of Manuscripts. 

In a note to an 1874 printing, Jared Potter Kirtland wrote: "The Foregoing 
Song was composed by Robert Treat Payne of Boston, and was first sung in 
public at the Great Festival, held at Wallingford, Ct, March 11, 1801, in com- 
memoration of the election of Thomas Jefferson to the Presidency of the United 
States. For the tune, Asahael Benham, Sen., selected the air of an old Irish Song, 
and composed for it a sublime and beautiful bass, adapted to the measure of 
the words. He led the numerous and well-drilled Choir in singing the piece at 

that Festival 



His country's glory, hope and stay, 
In virtue and in talents tri'd, 
Now rises to assume the sway, 
O'er freedom's temple to preside. 

Rejoice! Columbia's sons, ire. 

Within its hallow'd walls immense, 
No hireling band shall e'er arise, 
Array'd in tyranny's defence, 
To hear an injur'd people's cries. 

Rejoice! Columbia's sons., ire. 

No lordling here with gorging jaws, 
Shall wring from industry its food, 
No fiery bigot's holy laws, 
Lay waste our fields and streets in blood, 

Rejoice! Columbia's sons., ire. 

Here strangers from a thousand shores, 
CompelTd by tyranny to roam, 
Shall find amidst abundant stores, 
A nobler and a happier home. 

Rejoice! Columbia's sons, ire. 

Here art shall lift her laureFd head, 
Wealth, industry and peace divine, 
And where dark pathless forests spread, 
Rich fields and lofty cities shine. 

Rejoice! Columbia's sons, ire. 

From Europe's wants and woes remote, 
A dreary waste of waves between, 
Here plenty cheers the humble cot, 
And smiles on every village green. 

Rejoice! Columbia's sons, ire. 

Jefferson and Liberty 101 

Here free as air's expanded space, 
To every soul and sect shall be, 
The sacred privlege of our race, 
The worship of the Deity. 

Rejoice! Columbia s sons, ire. 

These gifts, great Liberty, are thine; 
Ten thousand more we owe to thee! 
Immortal may their memories shine, 
Who fought and died for liberty. 

Rejoice! Columbia's sons, ire. 

What heart but hails a scene so bright, 
What soul but inspiration draws, 
Who would not guard so dear a right, 
Or die in such a glorious cause. 

Rejoice! Columbia's sons, ire. 

Let foes to freedom dread the name, 
But should they touch the sacred tree, 
Twice fifty thousand swords shall flame 

Rejoice! Columbia s sons, ire. 

From Georgia up to Lake Champlain, 
From seas to Mississippi's shore, 
Ye sons of freedom loud proclaim, 

Rejoice! Columbia s sons, rejoice! 
To tyrants never bend the knee, 
But join mth heart, and soul, and voice, 


(Written when the poet was thirteen} 

When shall this land, some courteous angel say, 
Throw off a weak, and erring ruler's sway? 
Rise, injured people, vindicate your cause! 
And prove your love of liberty and laws; 
Oh wrest, sole refuge of a sinking land, 
The sceptre from the slave s imbecile hand! 
Oh ne'er consent, obsequious, to advance, 
The willing vassal of imperious France! 
Correct that suffrage you misus'd before 
And lift your voice above a congress roar. 

And thou, the scorn of eveiy patriot name, 
Thy country's ruin, and her council's shame! 
Poor servile thing! derision of the brave! 
Who erst from Tarleton fled to Carter's cave; 
Thou, who, when menac'd by perfidious Gaul, 
Didst prostrate to her whisker'd minion fall; 
And when our cash her empty bags supply'd 
Didst meanly strive the foul disgrace to hide; 
Go, wretch, resign the presidential chair, 
Disclose thy secret measures, foul or fair. 
Go, search with curious eye, for horned frogs, 
Mid the wild wastes of Louisianian bogs; 
Or, where Ohio rolls his turbid stream, 
Dig for huge bones, thy glory and thy theme. 
Go, scan, Philosophist, thy ****** charms 
And sink supinely in her sable arms; 
But quit to abler hands the helm of state, 
Nor image ruin on thy country's fate! 

From The Embargo; or Sketches of the Times, by William Cullen Bryant. 
Second edition, corrected and enlarged. Boston, 1809. 



Monday, 8 o'clock, 20th February, 1804 

Left Sally damn'd bore, to rise early but must seem industrious, 
though nothing to do. Met Madison at breakfast don't much like 
him talked of virtue and consciencethought he looked hard at me 
Gallatin's the man never hear such stuff from him no danger too of 
his pushing me out good fellow! pay him well, and hell do any 
thing 'point d'argent, point de suisse/ 

10 o'clock. Wrote half a page of my dissertation on cock-roaches 
servant came in to say, people below wanted to see me on public 
business cursed their impertinence sent word, I was out. Why don't 
they go to Gallatin or Madison office of President must be sinecure- 
trouble enough to sign bills and messages returned to my cock- 
roaches, in a fret, and couldn't write. Received note from Gallatin, 
inclosing bill I told him to read yesterday says, it's all right signed 
it, and sent it to the senate. Mem. to ask Gallatin, what's its purport. 

Took up Port Folio saw the name of Gabriel Jones found myself 
in a cold sweat; and threw it into the fire. Wonder folks will talk of 
old stories better mind their own business troublesome fellow that 
Editor worries me cursedly lets nothing escape him. Beau Dawson 
lounged in had on pair of new breeches devilish proud of 'em- 
thought more of them than of me mentioned pretty mulatto girl 
at 's made my mouth water take a peep at her Sally's grow- 
ing stale told him to bring her in the back way. Beau talked of 
manufactures of France, famous hair-powder, and almond-paste 

From The Port Folio, Philadelphia, August 18, 1804, Volume 4, Number 33. 

Title supplied. Published with the caption "Levity" and the note "The follow- 
ing fragment of a journal was picked up by a traveller, while tantioying along the 
banks of the Potomac/* 



stock he brought with him almost out. Mem. must make another 
errand for him. 

12 o'clock. Randolph came in looked rather queer found he'd 
been trying to answer that darnn'd fellow Griswold desperate case- 
made many bold assertions, but was detected in allgot into a cursed 
scrape, and was obliged to sit down damn'd provoking, can't find 
any one to cope with Griswold Jack's flippant enough, but quite on 
the surface, better than any of our side though tried Giles, found 
he wouldn't do been looking out some time to buy over a Fed of 
talents can't meet with one who'd take a bribe very strange that. 

Ordered my horse never ride with a servant looks proud mob 
doesn't like itmust gull the boobies. Adams wouldn't bend so had 
rather lose his place knew nothing of the world. Pass'd Merry and 
his wife saw her whisper and smile look'd foolish thought she 
was laughing at me Why do women of fashion come to this coun- 
try? wish she had staid in England heard her jest once about my 
dirty stockings must cringe to 'em now though! hope he hasn't 
written home about my first reception of them only did so to please 
our party, and to shew the world, that republicans affect not to con- 
duct themselves by the rules of gallantly and politeness. 

Stopp'd at Judge K 's, to be qualified to a deposition swore on 

a volume of 'Devil on two Sticks,' by mistake pretended to make a 
fuss about itafraid I overacted my part K. was seized with a cough- 
ing fit believe him to be a sneering son of a bitch. Found Paine wait- 
ing to dine with me sorry I invited him from France nothing gained 
by him people despise him all owing to his impudence gave him 
some hints a man may be an atheist without proclaiming it to the 
world pleasant fellow tho' several good jokes on the new testa- 
menttalked of the vision of Machiavel outrageous about the res- 
toration of the clergy in France. To put him in good humour, drank 
success to the invaders of England plied him well with brandy, and, 
as usual, left the stay-maker under the table. 

Received letter from Lewis, giving account of the Osage Indians- 
wonderfully curious terrapins dare say it's a fine countrymust have 
a breedsend commissioners to make a treaty with 'em. Dr. Mitchell 
came to tea spoke of his new method of drying frogs his new chemi- 
cal nomenclature folks cursed obstinate will stick to Lavoisier's 
all of a piece with preferring America to Fredonia Read me a part 

A Satire on Mr. Jefferson's Day 105 

of his letter to king of Naples wonder who he got to do it into Latin-- 
good thing his signature of CentumvirSi prig of a fellow glad to get 
rid of him no bad plan tho' of drying the frogs. 

10 d clock. Went to bed could not sleep took up National Intel- 
ligencer-- found myself getting drowsy began one of Caesar Rod- 
ney's speeches, and soon fell into a slumber. 






It is well known that the man, whom it delighteth the people to honor, 
keeps, and for many years has kept, as his concubine, one of his own 
slaves. Her name is Sally. The name of her eldest son is Tom. His 
features are said to bear a striking although sable resemblance to 
those of the president himself. The boy is ten or twelve years of 
age. His mother went to France in the same vessel with Mr. Jefferson 
and his two daughters. The delicacy of this arrangement must strike 
every person of common sensibility. What a sublime pattern for an 
American ambassador to place before the eyes of two young ladies! 

If the reader does not feel himself disposed to pause we beg leave 
to proceed. Some years ago this story had once or twice been hinted 
at in Rinds Federalist. At that time, we believed the surmise to be 
an absolute calumny. One reason for thinking so was this. A vast 
body of people wished to debar Mr. Jefferson from the presidency. 
The establishment of this SINGLE FACT would have rendered his 
election impossible. We reasoned thus: that if the allegation had been 
true, it was sure to have been ascertained and advertised by his 
enemies, in every corner of the continent. 

We do not wish to give wanton offence to many very good kind of 
people. Concerning a certain sort of connection, we have already 
stated that, "of boys and bachelors, we have said nothing, and we 
Jiave nothing to say." They will be pleased, therefore, to stand out of 
the way. When the king of Prussia was upon the point of fighting the 
great and decisive battle of Lissa, he assembled his principal officers, 

From the Richmond Recorder, as reprinted in the New-York Evening Post, 
September 10, 1802. 



and, under the penalty of his utmost contempt, exhorted them to 
bravery. In the midst of this address, an old veteran dissolved into 
tears. "My dear general/' said Frederic, "I did not refer to YOU." Some 
of our acquaintances are, upon the same principle, requested to 
believe that we do not, in this allusion, refer to them. We have 
formerly stated that supereminent pretensions to chastity are always 
suspicious. This hint was sufficiently plain to shew that die Recorder 
does not desire to set up a manufacture of wry faces. The writer of 
this article does not bear the stamp of a Scots presbyterian parson 
of the last century. But still, we all know that some things may be 
overlooked, which can hardly be excused, and which it is impracti- 
cable either to praise, or even to vindicate. Such is human nature, and 
such is human life. One of our correspondents very justly observes 
that "there is nobody, of whom something disagreeable may not be 

By this wench Sally, our President has had several children. There 
is not an individual in the neighbourhood of Charlottesville who does 
not believe the story; and not a few who know it. 

If Duane sees this account, he will not prate any more about the 
treaty between Mr. Adams and Toussaint. Behold the favorite! the 
first born of republicanism! the pinnacle of all that is good and great! 
in the open consummation of an act which tends to subvert the policy, 
the happiness, and even the existence of this country! 

'Tis supposed that, at the time when Mr. Jefferson wrote so smartly 
concerning negroes, when he endeavored so much to belittle the 
African race, he had no expectation that the chief magistrate of the 
United States was to be the ringleader in shewing that his opinion 
was erroneous; or, that he should chuse an African stock whereupon 
he was to engraft his own descendants. 

Duane and Cheetham are not worth asking whether this is a lie or 
not? But censor Smith is requested to declare whether the statement 
is a FEDERAJL MISREPRESENTATION? Mute! Mute! Mute! Yes, very 
mute will all those republican printers of political biographical in- 
formation be upon this point. Whether they stir, or not, they must 
feel themselves like a horse in a quick-sand. They will plunge deeper 
and deeper, until no assistance can save them. 

The writer of this piece has been arraigned as capable of selling 
himself to the British ambassador. The impeachment was made by a 
printer, who is in the confidence of Mr. Jefferson. The president had 

An Attack on the President's Character 111 

the utmost reason to believe that the charge was an utter fiction. This 
charge was met in a decisive stile. We at once, selected and appealed 
to the testimony, or belief, of five persons, who were intimately 
acquainted with the situation of Callender, at the period of the pre- 
tended project of sale. These were Mr. Israel Israel, Dr. James 
Reynolds, Mr. John Beckley, Mr. John Smith, federal marshal of 
Pennsylvania, and Mr. Mathew Carey, bookseller, whose name has 
been heard of in every county and corner of the United States. This 
appeal harmonised with the feelings of innocence and defiance. If 
the friends of Mr. Jefferson are convinced of his innocence, they will 
make an appeal of the same sort. If they rest in silence, or if they 
content themselves with resting upon a general denial, they cannot 
hope for credit. The allegation is of a nature too black to be suffered 
to remain in suspence. We should be glad to hear of its refutation. 
We give it to the world under the firmest belief that such a refutation 
never can "be made. The AFRICAN VENUS is said to officiate as house- 
keeper at Monticello. When Mr. Jefferson has read this article, he 
will find leisure to estimate how much has been lost or gained by so 
many unprovoked attacks upon 




. . . Let it be asked, who, in the most Infamous manner endeavored to 
defame the American character in Europe? The answer will be JEF- 
FERSON. If it be inquired who, with the hand of a base assassin, 
attempted to stab the reputation of the great Father of his country, 
the immortal Washington? The name of JEFFERSON again occurs. 
And if it be demanded, who hired the most profligate outlaws of 
foreign countries to plunge the political poniard into the well earned 
fame of John Adams? Still the name of JEFFERSON presents itself. 

But supposing Mr. Burr does hold a competition with the runaway 
governor of 1780, where was the harm, nay, the impropriety of it? 
Had he not as many of the suffrages of the electors as Jefferson? This 
even Duane, Denniston, or Cheetham dare not deny. If facts come 
properly to light, however, it will soon rise in judgement against him, 
that he is himself the director behind the scenes, of these political 

Nero affected humanity, and thou, even thou, Jefferson affectest 
virtue but what the name of Nero was to Rome, will thine be to thy 
Country, when once the unerring hand of time shall place thy actions, 
in the proper point of view, and that your country may be speedily 
and happily relieved from the evils of your public agency is the ardent 
wish, and fervent prayer of every friend to the fame and principles 

From the New-York Evening Post, November 10, 1802. 



My soul, what pen can draw, what tongue explain 
The baseness of that mind prone to defame. 
The baseness of that tongue, which loves to dwell 
On characters and blow the fire of hell; 
With breath malign fair reputation spot, 
And throw at purest innocence a blot. 

From The Thomas Jefferson Scrapbook, Alderman Library, University o 
Virginia. Courtesy Francis L. Berkeley, Jr., Curator of Manuscripts. 





. . . The year [1926] is the one hundredth anniversary of the death of 
that Virginia lawyer who penned the Declaration of Independence. 
As a statesman he has been called not unjustly by a recent English 
reviewer the greatest liberal of the modern world. By common con- 
sent he has influenced, living and dead, the daily thought of his 
fellow countrymen more than any other man in all their history; for 
he it was who formulated, defended and made victorious that social 
and political philosophy of individualism and equality by which 
America has lived and to which all American statesmen of whatever 
party since his day have given their allegiance. Without Washington 
America could not have won through the trials that beset her birth, 
without Hamilton she might have perished in the quagmire of false 
finance, without Marshall the Constitution might have proved itself 
a rope of sand; but the social life of Americans, meaning thereby the 
feelings they entertain one toward another and the hopes they cher- 
ish for themselves, could not be what it is today without the teach- 
ings of Thomas Jefferson. In speaking of him at this time, however, 
I wish to turn aside from a consideration of his career as author, or 
diplomat or statesman and submit to you some reflections gathered 
from the less familiar portion of his life which he spent as a devotee 

From an address delivered before the Virginia State Bar Association, August 
4, 1926, and published in the Association's Proceedings, Volume 88. Reprinted 
by permission of Hon. John W. Davis. 



of the legal profession. My topic is Thomas Jefferson, Attorney at 

It is the fate of great men to devour themselves; the earlier man 
is swallowed up in the later, or perhaps it would he fairer to say that 
the greater obscures the less. Washington, the boy surveyor of the 
unsubdued frontier, is lost in Washington the general and president; 
the young artillerist at the siege of Toulon is forgotten in the romance 
of Napoleon, Emperor of the French and dictator of thrones and 
nationalities; or if you will have a later illustration, history will have 
little to say of a certain college professor at Princeton, but will write 
many pages of Woodrow Wilson, war president and founder of the 
League of Nations. So the lawyer Jefferson; and yet I make for him 
this claim that if he had not been called away to public life, if the 
times had not opened to him broader avenues of public service, he 
would still have won his place in the history of Virginia as one of the 
brightest ornaments of an illustrious bar. I base this confident state- 
ment upon a consideration of his training, his success as a practitioner 
and his later contributions to the ordered progress of the law. Will 
you follow me in a hurried review of these three phases of his legal 

His education was truly unusual. At the early age of seventeen he 
entered an advanced class at William and Mary College and left it 
two years later a "profound and accomplished scholar for one so 
young," but at the mere threshold of a course of study that endured 
until his death. It was in 1775 that John Adams quoted Duane's 
remark that "J e ff e * s o n is the greatest rubber-off of dust that I have 
met with; he has learned French, Italian and Spanish and wants to 
learn German." Before he left college he had studied deeply and 
read widely in mathematics, languages, the sciences, the classics and 
belles lettres; and if the requirements for entry upon the study of 
the law had been as exacting as those of our most advanced law 
schools of today he would have easily fulfilled them all, 

No such schools were open to the American colonial, however. He 
had but two avenues of approach to the gateway of the bar. The 
first, by enrollment at one of the Inns of Court in London, was avail- 
able only to those of substantial means. Residence there was an 
expensive business, A long ocean journey and several years* atten- 
dance as a student of the Inn lay between the aspirant and his call to 
the bar; years in which such learning as he acquired was gained by 

Thomas Jefferson, Attorney at Lato 119 

lectures, disputations and attendance upon the courts of Westminster 
and the Guildhall with little guidance on the way. The rigor of study 
was further softened no doubt by many social interludes, which 
added to the expense; although it was perhaps no longer true of the 
Inns as Sir John Fortescue had written three centuries earlier that 
"There they learn to sing and exercise themselves in all kinds of har- 
mony. There also they practice dansing and other noblemen's pas- 
times, as they used to do that are brought up in the king's house." 

The other road was that which so long prevailed in America the 
reading of law in some practitioner's office. The law school was to 
come later on the initiative of Jefferson himself. Of his immediate 
predecessors and colleagues, the Inner Temple trained St. George 
Tucker he of the Blackstone and Thomas Nelson; while to the 
Middle Temple had gone John Blair, Carter Harrison, Thomas Ma- 
son (whom St. George Tucker said was "esteemed the first lawyer at 
the bar"), Arthur Lee, Joseph Jones, Peyton and John Randolph, and 
William Byrd, of Westover the latter bearing a name distinguished 
in his day and which in the present generation has won new lustre 
in Virginia and the world. Such men as George Wythe, Robert Carter 
Nicholas, John Tyler, Dabney Carr, Patrick Henry and Gabriel Jones, 
of the Valley, on the other hand, were trained at home. No other 
course was open to Jefferson as the son of a widowed mother with 
eight children by her side. He counted himself fortunate therefore 
when the kindly Dr. Small, who he says "fixed the destinies of my 
life," procured him entrance in 1762 to the office of George Wythe. 

One wonders what it was that turned his ambition toward the law. 
Perhaps, mere love for the mental exercise, of what we are fond of 
calling the most intellectual of the professions; perhaps attendance 
during his college days on the forensic battles in the General Court; 
perhaps the tradition of his maternal great-uncle, Sir John Randolph, 
attorney general under the Crown, and at his early death in 1737 
regarded as one of the great practitioners in America. Or it may have 
been the contemplation of his cousins, Peyton and John Randolph, 
then in practice at Williamsburg, both attorneys general in their turn 
and the latter of whom has the distinction of having been the last 
attorney general of the colony under the Crown and father of the 
first attorney general of the United States under the Constitution. 
Peyton Randolph we know as the president of the Constitutional 
Congress; but John, feeling his allegiance to the Crown too strong 


to be broken, bowed to the storm and went to London at tie outbreak 
of the Revolution to remain until his death. Mr. Wirt describes him as 

in person and manners among the most elegant gentlemen in the 
colony, and in his profession one of the most splendid ornaments 
of the bar. He was a polite scholar, as well as a profound lawyer 
and his eloquence was of a high order. His voice, action, style 
were stately and uncommonly impressive. 

How could the boy Jefferson have remained unimpressed by such 

What did he study during his five years under Wythe? That he 
was industrious we know, for he rose in the grey o the summer 
morning and in winter when the hands of his bedroom clock reached 
five. He tells us little himself of his studies, passing over this period 
of his life in his autobiography with scant words. No doubt he fol- 
lowed the advice which he later gave to another, and carefully 
abstracted in his commonplace books all that he read, striving ever 
to attain what he declared to be "the most valuable of all talents, 
that of never using two words where one will do." There were thorns 
along the way, we may be sure, if one may judge by his remark to 
his friend Page that "I do wish the devil had old Coke, for I am sure 
I was never so tired of an old dull scoundrel in my life." 

Law books were few in America in those blissful days, and such 
as there were were of English origin. Indeed but thirty-three law 
books in all had been printed in America prior to 1776, and in this 
tally are included eight editions of the same work. Virginia's sole 
contribution to the list, outside of Purvis' "complete collection" 
(1661-1687), Beverly's (1642-1720) and Mercer's (1661-1736) abridge- 
ments of her statutes was Webb's "The Office and Authority of a 
Justice of the Peace." The flood gates of American Reports were still 
to be opened and even a collection of the existing statutes was not 
easy to come by. Prior to 1733 they were not even printed as they 
were delivered from the legislative mill, but were preserved solely 
in manuscript, leaving him to discover their contents who could. 
Thereafter, although printed as passed, little effort had been made 
to assemble them in complete collective form. Few, wrote St. George 
Tucker in 1803; had ever been able to boast of possessing a complete 
collection of the laws of Virginia. Jefferson's own laborious collec- 
tion, the fruit of many years, was known in 1795 to be more all- 

Thomas Jefferson, Attorney at Law 121 

embracing than any other extant, and when he turned it over to 
Wythe for the use of the Committee on Publication he wrote that he 
had spared neither time nor trouble nor expense in gathering the 
manuscripts and printed copies of which it was composed. Lord 
Coke's Institutes was the stern meat upon which legal infants were 
nourished until the first volume of Blackstone came into the field in 
1765; and with them the student was invited to consider Bracton, 
Britton, Fleta, Glanville and such like, Bacon's Abridgement, Co- 
myn's Digest, Lord Kames and Fonblanque on Equity and the reports 
of Salkeld, Modern, Vemon, Ventries and such others as were then 
extant. Nor were the civilians, Domat, Puffendorf, Justinian and the 
rest overlooked. If Jefferson's reading pursued the course which he 
outlined for his young friend Bernard Moore it was truly prodigious. 
(See Randall, Vol. 1, page 53.) In this letter he commends to the 
student the following division of time: from rising until eight in the 
morning, physical studies; from eight to twelve, read law; from 
twelve to one, read politics; in the afternoon read history; from dark 
to bedtime, belles lettres, criticism, rhetoric and oratory. 

Of Blackstone his views seem to have been variable. In the letter 
to Moore he speaks of Blackstone's "inimitable commentaries the 
best perfect digest to both branches of the law." Later in a letter to 
Judge Tyler, penned in 1812, he writes: 

Blackstone, whose book although the most elegant and best 
digested in our catalogue, has been perverted more than all 
others, to the degeneracy of legal science. A student finds there 
a smattering of everything and his indolence persuades him that 
if he understands that book he is a master of the whole body of 
the law. The distinction between these and those who have 
drawn their stores from the deep mines of Coke and Littleton, 
seem well understood, even by the appellation of Blackstone 
lawyers to the ephemeral insects of the law. 

If any remain in this generation to share his reverence for Lord 
Coke and his magnum opus, they would find interest in Coke's own 
copy of Littleton's Tenures, which still survives in the private library 
of his kinsman, the present Earl of Leicester. It is a small black-bound 
volume "annotated in the margent," as Coke said in the careful cata- 
logue which he annexed to his will, and every page is covered with 


the crabbed and minute handwriting of the great annotator. Those 
students who, like Jefferson, were at his mercy, had a similar course 
to follow, for commonplace books, the annotation of texts and notes 
on the cases that came to their attention were the sure but laborious 
steps by which they climbed to legal proficiency. This was supple- 
mented no doubt by attendance upon any courts that were open to 
them; a practice which in my judgment can still be usefully com- 
mended to the law students of to-day. 

The American bar at long last is exerting itself with vigor to raise 
the standard of legal education in the United States. It is insisting 
that three years of legal study preceded by at least two years of 
collegiate training is little enough of preparation for the labors of the 
lawyer. Every effort of the sort, however, provokes an invocation of 
those high spirits of the past who, like Patrick Henry or like Lincoln, 
came to fame, if not fortune, by a shorter route; Lincoln, who called 
himself a "mast-fed lawyer/' and Henry, with his six weeks spent on 
Coke and the Virginia Statutes and a certificate for license signed 
by John and Peyton Randolph, who "perceived him to be a young 
man of genius, very ignorant of law, but did not doubt he would soon 
qualify himself." In this Wythe, the third examiner, inflexibly just as 
always, refused to join, believing him not qualified. There is no rec- 
ord of any trial of strength between Henry and Jefferson, yet fancy 
if you can a court room contest between the two: Henry, all fire and 
flame, more advocate than lawyer, seeking to carry the day solely by 
the storm of his passionate oratory; Jefferson, cool, unemotional, pre- 
pared, more lawyer than advocate, stating the issues as he stated 
everything he touched with a clarity born both of industry and 
genius. Madison, who had heard him in the court room, says that he 
spoke "fluently and well/' We all have seen at one time or another 
both types in action. They have each their functions; and yet in the 
long run those who wish entertainment will take Henry, but those 
who want to win their cases will retain Jefferson. 

Five years under Wythe and then Jefferson at the age of twenty- 
four was introduced to the bar of the General Court of Virginia by 
that "faithful and beloved mentor in youth and most affectionate 
friend through life." Who composed the Committee of Councillors 
of the General Court that examined him for license we do not know; 
quite probably the same persons who had passed on Henry seven 
years before. There is in his case, however, no record of any dissent. 

Thomas Jefferson, Attorney at Law 123 

It was an odd tribunal, that old General Court, tested by modem 
standards. It was composed of the governor and his council, drawn 
from the most prominent and wealthy men of the colony, few of 
whom were lawyers, and was commanded by statute to sit semi- 
yearly for twenty-four days in April and October at Williamsburg. 
Five made a quorum. Its jurisdiction was all-embracing, civil, crimi- 
nal and appellate, and except for the evil days under Governor 
Berkeley it seems to have dealt out justice with a pretty even hand 
in the sort of cases that would naturally arise in a purely agricultural 
community ejectments and boundaries and wills and partitions and 
contracts and torts and crimes, and not a few of the problems that 
arose from the institution of slavery and the effort to deal with human 
beings as something less than men and something more than cattle. 

Reports it had none, wisely choosing perhaps not to imperil sound 
decisions by unsound reasoning. Some manuscript notes of decided 
cases were prepared for their own private use by Sir John Randolph 
(1728-1732), Edward BarradaU (1733-1741), and Hopkins (1730-1740). 
These manuscripts Jefferson received from John Randolph in 1768 
and abstracted from them all the cases they contained of a domestic 
character as distinguished from those governed by English law. He 
took four from Randolph, twenty-six from Barradall, and one from 
Hopkins; and continued to add to them like cases "arising under our 
peculiar laws" until "the Revolution dissolved our courts of justice 
and called those attached to them to far other occupations/' It is 
interesting to note that the large majority of the cases so included 
dealt with some phase of property in slaves. The posthumous publi- 
cation of these assembled cases in 1829 as Jefferson's Reports of 
Decisions in the General Court of Virginia enrolls him in the list of 
Virginia court reporters. 

Little save his own notes remains to tell the story of Jefferson's 
seven years of practice, but his success was striking and immediate. 
He makes record of sixty-eight cases in the General Court in 1767, 
115 in 1768, 198 in 1769, 121 in 1770, 137 in 1771, 154 in 1772, 127 
in 1773, and 29 in 1774, up to the time when he gave up his business 
to his cousin, Edmund Randolph, and wound up his career at the 
bar. In addition he had many cases before the inferior courts, such 
as the county courts of Albemarle and Augusta and the Court of 
Oyer and Terminer at Williamsburg. He records that he was retained 
in a total of 430 cases in all courts in the year of 1771 and 347 in 


1772, Measuring the future by die progress that he made, we may 
be sure that die highest place at the bar was his had fate permitted 
him to reach for it. Indeed, when Robert Gary Nicholas, the acknowl- 
edged leader of the bar, wished to retire in 1771, he put his unfinished 
business in die hands of the youthful Jefferson, and only after his 
declination was it turned over to Patrick Henry. 

His average annual profits of $3,000.00 may not seem a dazzling 
figure in this auriferous age, but it bulked large in that day and time. 
It was not all beer and skittles either in matters of compensation. 
Fees were fixed by law: five pounds in the General Court; for an 
opinion, one pound, one shilling and six pence; in the inferior courts, 
thirty shillings where the suit concerned landed property, and seven 
and six pence if for small debts. Quite contrary, of course, to the 
happy customs of today, even these were not always promptly paid. 
So it was that an advertisement appeared in the Virginia Gazette of 
May 20, 1773, signed by Edmund Pendleton, John Randolph, James 
Mercer, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, Jr., and Gustavns Scott, 
which after reciting that 

The fees allowed by Law if regularly paid, would barely com- 
pensate our incessant Labors, reimburse our expenses and the 
losses incurred by Neglect of our private Affairs; yet even these 
Rewards, confessedly moderate, are withheld from us in a great 
Proportion, by the unworthy Part of our Clients, 

goes on to advise the public that 

we have corne to the following Resolution for the invariable 
Observance of which we mutually plight our Honor to each 
other: That after the 10th day of October next we will not give 
an Opinion on any Case stated to us but on Payment of the whole 
Fee, nor prosecute or defend any Suit or Motion unless the Tax 
and one-half of the Fee be previously advanced, excepting those 
Cases only where we choose to act gratis; and we hope no persons 
whatever may think of applying to us in any other Way. To pre- 
vent Disappointment, however, in Case this should be done, we 
think it proper to give this Warning, that no such Application, 
either verbal or by Way of Letter, will be answered to in the 
smallest Degree. 

Thomas Jefferson, Attorney at Law 125 

Then fearing lest they might give offense where offense was not 
intended, they hasten to add: 

We would feel much Concern if a thought could be entertained 
that the worthy Part of our Clients could disapprove this Measure. 
Their Conduct has been such as calls for our Acknowledgments 
and might merit exemption from this Strictness, were such Ex- 
emption practicable, but they will readily perceive this would 
defeat the Purpose, and that no distinction of Persons can by 
any means be attempted. We hope, therefore, from their Friend- 
ship, a cheerful concurrence in this plan, since the requisition is 
such only as their Punctuality would of itself prevent. 

Of his arguments before the General Court those in Howell v. 
Netherland in April, 1770, and Godwin v. Lunan in October, 1771, 
are alone preserved to us through his small volume of reports. In the 
first he appeared to resist the detention in servitude of the grand- 
child of a person begotten of a white woman by a negro man. Along 
with a consideration of the statutes he took occasion to declare that 

Under the law of nature all men are born free, every one comes 
into the world with a right to his own person which includes the 
liberty of moving and using it at his own will. This is what is 
called personal liberty, and is given him by the author of nature, 
because necessary for his own sustenance. The reducing of the 
mother to servitude was a violation of the law of nature; surely 
then the same law cannot prescribe a continuance of the violation 
to her issue, and that, too, without end, for if it extends to any it 
must to even 7 degree of descendants. 

and he concludes, 

So that the position at first laid down is now proven, that the 
act of 1705 makes servants of the first mulatto, that of 1723 ex- 
tends it to her children, but that it remains for some future legis- 
lature, if any shall be found wicked enough, to extend it to the 
grandchildren and other issue more remote, to the nati natorum 
et qui nascentur ab illis. 

Alas, however, for the uncertainty of the lawyer's life; the argu- 
ment failed, as many other good arguments have done before and 
since, and the court decided against him without even hearing from 


his opponent, Mr. Wythe. In the second case lie was more fortunate. 
With a wealth of historical research running back to the days of 
Ethelwolf, he classifies churches as collatives, preservatives and 
donatives (terms which this learned audience will doubtless under- 
stand); and having placed those of Virginia in the last class, he suc- 
cessfully sustained the visitatorial right of the General Court at the 
suit of the church wardens and vestry to oust from his living a most 
disreputable and dissolute country parson who said that he "cared 
not of what religion he was so he got the tobacco, nor what became 
of the flock so that he could get the fleece." 

But if Jefferson the practitioner had run his race by 1774, Jefferson 
the lawyer had still the greater part of his work to do. In the heart 
of every lawyer worthy of the name there burns a deep ambition so 
to bear himself that the profession may be stronger by reason of his 
passage through its ranks and that he may leave the law itself a better 
instrument of human justice than he found it. To many a man fate 
denies the opportunity to realize this desire, but it came to Jefferson 
in fullest measure. He grasped it with furious energy. It is true that 
the Revolution itself had stirred the foundations of the great deep 
and opened the way for many things that otherwise would have haid 
long to wait. But I question whether the legislative history of any 
State can match the proceedings in Virginia during the years when 
Jefferson set the pace. Under his leadership a new and complete 
Judiciary was established, the importation of slaves was prohibited, 
entails were abolished, expatriation recognized, naturalization pro- 
vided for, and a committee on the general revision of the laws 
erected, the work of which fell to Wythe, Pendleton and himself. 

In language which should be kept before all subsequent revisors 
he gives his views of the manner in which such work should be done. 

"In the execution of my part," said he, "I thought it material 
not to vary the diction of the ancient statutes by modernizing it, 
nor to give rise to new questions by new expressions. The text of 
these statutes had been so fully explained and defined by numer- 
ous adjudications as scarcely ever now to produce a question in 
our courts. I thought it would be useful also, in all new drafts, 
to reform the style of the later British statutes and of our own 
Acts of Assembly; which from their verbosity, their endless 
tautologies, their involutions of case within case and parenthesis 
within parenthesis, and their multiplied efforts at certainty, by 

Thomas Jefferson, Attorney at Law 127 

saids and aforesaids, by ors and by ands f to make them more 
plain, are really rendered more perplexed and incomprehensible, 
not onlv to common readers, but to the lawyers themselves." 

All of which is most humbly and respectfully commended to Con- 
gresses, legislatures and law-makers, whosoever, not omitting the 
framers of the United States Revenue Act of 1926. 

A remarkable thing it was, the work of those revisers, with their 
126 bills rewriting the laws of the State; bills abolishing primogeni- 
ture, proportioning crimes and punishments, confining the death 
penalty to murder and treason, raising money for all public expenses 
by assessments in proportion to property, outlining a free school 
system for the State, granting full freedom of religion, and fore- 
shadowing what they knew it would be useless then to insist upon 
the gradual and certain abolition of human slavery. To discuss these 
bills or any of them would go beyond my purpose, which is only to 
show in what measure Jefferson paid his debt to his profession. But 
stay a moment and contemplate that statute of religious freedom as 
Jefferson wrote it; how trumpet-like its words ring out across the 
years. Listen to some of the sentences: 

Well aware that the opinions and beliefs of men depend not 
on their own will, but follow involuntarily the evidence pro- 
posed to their minds: that Almighty God hath created the mind 
free, and manifested his will that free it shall remain by making 
it altogether insusceptible of restraint; * * * 

that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious 
opinions any more than our opinions in physics or geometry; 
that therefore the proscribing any citizens as unworthy the public 
confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to 
offices of trust and emolument unless he profess or renounce this 
or that religious opinion is depriving him injuriously of those 
privileges and advantages to which, in common with his fellow- 
citizens, he has a natural right; ** * * 

that the opinions of men are not the subject of civil govern- 
ment nor under its jurisdiction; * * * 

and finally that truth is great and will prevail if she is left to 
herself; that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, 
and has nothing to fear from the conflict unless by human inter- 
position disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and 

128 JOHN- \V. DAMS 

debate; errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely 
to contradict them. 

We ? the General Assembly, do enact, That no man shall be 
compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place or 
ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested 
or burdened in Ms body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on 
account of his religious opinions or beliefs; but that all men shall 
be free to profess and by argument to maintain their opinions in 
matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, 
enlarge or affect their civil capacities. * * * 

What a message that was for Virginia to send resounding through 
the world! And yet how hard it dies, that spirit of religious intoler- 
ance. Surely it is one of the least flattering reflections upon human 
nature and human intelligence that men throughout the centuries 
have hated one another, oppressed one another, and wound up by 
slitting one another's throats, because they could not agree as to what 
would happen after the throat was slit. And though we in America 
have traveled far in the wake of Jefferson, and have wiped our 
statute books clear of religious discrimination, some recent manifes- 
tations warn us against too much vainglory over our liberality of 
thought. We have no monopoly of that virtue. Those who think other- 
wise may find a needed lesson in the fact that this generation has seen 
a Jew, Disraeli, the prime minister of gentile England, and another, 
Reading, her Lord Chief Justice and Viceroy of her greatest Domin- 
ion; a Catholic, Laurier, premier of Protestant Canada; and a Prot- 
estant, Doumergue, president of Catholic France. 

Still another opportunity to serve his profession opened itself to 
Jefferson. In 1779 he became Governor of Virginia and was elected 
one of the visitors of William and Mary College. Busy as always, he 
turned to the reformation of her curriculum and succeeded in estab- 
Kshing as one of the six professorships allowed under her charter, a 
professorship of Law and Police. It was the first law professorship 
set upon American soil and the second in any English-speaking coun- 
try. George Wythe, the "incarnation of Justice," was taken from the 
bench of the Court of Chancery to fill it, at the munificent salary of 
80 in tobacco per year. John Marshall was among the first of his 
students, and under his careful tending the tree bore fruit before the 
turn of the century in such men and lawyers as Spencer Roane, Ben- 

Thomas Jeferson, Attorney at Law 129 

jamin Watkins Leigh, John J. Crittenden, William A. Rives, John 
Breckenridge, John Wickham, H. St. George Tucker, W. H. Cabell, 
Littleton Waller Tazewell, William Munford and George Nicholas. 
No grapes from thorns or figs from thistles here! And when Wythe's 
work was done, St. George Tucker came to fill the chair and carry 
on the traditions he had established. 

So we have Jefferson, the student, the practitioner, the court re- 
porter, the revisor of the laws, the father of American law schools. In 
the light of all he did for the legal fraternity we can forgive some of 
the things he said about it, not always of the gentlest character. For 
instance, he writes to Madison in February of 1812: 

I have much doubted whether, in case of a war, Congress 
would find it practicable to do their part of the business. That a 
body containing one hundred lawyers in it should direct the 
measures of a war is, I fear, impossible; and that thus that mem- 
ber of our Constitution which is its bulwark will prove to be an 
impracticable one from its cacoethes loquendi. 

Not flattering, surely; yet faithful are the wounds of a friend. 

To say so much concerning Jefferson and not say more is difficult, 
and yet I have chosen to direct your attention to but one aspect of 
his varied life, and I must stick to my text. But I cannot close without 
stopping to inquire what was the secret of the influence he exerted 
over the men of his own generation, what the basis of his sway over 
the thought of those who have come after. I think it can be stated 
in short compass, for the mainspring of his power was and is an 
abiding faith in the worth and dignity of the individual man. It is 
the keynote of everything he said or did. The worth and dignity of 
the individual man; always imperfect, yet made in the image of Him 
by whom he was created; mistaken often, but entitled to correct 
his mistakes in his own way and time; misled not infrequently, but 
with the right to pass judgment upon those who mislead him; gifted 
by nature with unequal parts and faculties, but vested with the inali- 
enable right to stand erect before a just and equal law; too feeble, 
as Lieber finely puts it, to wield unlimited power, but too noble to 
submit to it. For such a man and by him governments are made, and 
these are good or bad in the exact proportion in which they protect 
or restrict his God-given liberties. In the language of Jefferson him- 


self, "The true foundation of Republican government is the equal 
right of every citizen in his person, his property and in their manage- 
ment" It is not a new doctrine, it was not new in the days of Jefferson. 
Indeed it has been the creed of all those lofty souls who have aspired 
throughout the ages to be leaders and teachers of mankind, finding 
its supreme exponent in the Man of Galilee. Yet new or old, it has 
never been without opponents, and, thank God, has never lacked 
defenders ready to die if need be in its behalf. Around the world 
today the combat rages, and everywhere the clarions of the battle 

Lawyers of Virginia, heirs in body and in spirit of the mighty dead, 
I repeat to you the Laconian admonitionworthy, said Erasmus, to 
be written on the insignia of every prince "You have been given 
Sparta. Adorn her!" 



"The Richest Treasure House of Historical Information 
Ever Left by a Single Man' 


The purpose of this work [The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Princeton 
University Press, projected in some 50 volumes] is to present the 
writing and recorded actions of Thomas Jefferson as accurately and 
as completely as possible. Completeness in such a task, even for one 
who transmitted to posterity so full a record as Jefferson did, is only 
theoretically possible. "A great deal of the knolege of things," Jeffer- 
son once wrote Joel Barlow in an effort to persuade him to write a 
history of the American Revolution, "is not on paper but only within 
ourselves, for verbal communication." 1 He might have added that, 
so far as posterity was concerned, much was not communicable at 
all, verbally or otherwise. But few if any of Jefferson's contempora- 
ries recognized an obligation to history so clearly as he did, and none 
exceeded him in his effort to discharge the debt. His aid to historians 
such as Girardin, Hazard, Ramsay, Wirt, and others; his indefatigable 
labors as a young lawyer in transcribing the ancient manuscript laws 
of Virginia; his answers to the queries of Marbois which resulted in 
one of the notable books of the eighteenth century; his compilation 
of vocabularies of Indian dialects; his meticulous care in recording 
the fullest and most exact account of the debates on the Declaration 
of Independence; his making available the best private library in 
America as the foundation of our national library; his copying, index- 
ing, and organizing the vast number of letters, memoranda, accounts, 

From the introductory essay, "A General View of the Work," in Volume I o 
The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. Julian P. Boyd, Editor. Lyman JL Butterfield 
and Mina R. Bryan, Associate Editors. Copyright 1950 by Princeton University 
Press. Reprinted by permission. 

1 To Joel Barlow, 3 May 1802. 



and records in Ms personal files these and countless other acts, per- 
formed throughout his career and at the cost of an untold amount of 
time and energy, reveal the consciousness of his effort to preserve 
for posterity a full account of the major events through which the 
country passed in its formative years and of Ms own part in those 

Because of his conscious effort and because of his complete Iden- 
tity with the national purpose as it was pursued during his day ? this 
and succeeding volumes take on significant meaning. They are, first 
of all, the record of a man's career-a record which, in the accepted 
opinion of a competent scholar, constitutes "the richest treasure 
house of historical information ever left by a single man." 2 But also, 
since the achievements of Jefferson's long career were extraordinarily 
fruitful, these volumes may be regarded as being, in part, a record 
of the origin, formation, and early growth of the Republic. More, they 
may be taken as being the best single gateway to the eighteenth 
century in America and to the manifold hopes then stirring the minds 
of men that reason and justice could be substituted for authority and 
superstition In guiding human affairs. 

Yet, above all, these volumes should be regarded as the embodi- 
ment of an idea. They need to be viewed so if only because Jefferson's 
remarkable versatility and the very mass of evidence tend to obscure 
the nature of the Idea. The generally accepted opinion of Jefferson 
as a versatile genius whose all-embracing mind explored every 
avenue of science and culture, much of which he enriched and all 
of which he gathered within the orbit of his lofty purpose, is indubi- 
tably correct and Is amply set forth in these volumes. Parton's des- 
cription of him as "a gentleman of thirty-two who could calralate an 
eclipse, survey an estate, tie an artery, plan an edifice, try a cause, 
break a horse, dance a minuet, and play the violin 9 * is, for all its incon- 
gruity, only a partial picture. Among all Jefferson's contemporaries 
in America, if not among all who preceded and followed him, only 
Franklin could be said to approach him in the extent and variety of- 
fals Inquiry. To catalogue the areas of his explorations is to list most 
of the principal categories of knowledge law, government, history, 
mathematics, architecture, medicine, agriculture, languages and lit- 
erature, education, music, philosophy, religion, and almost every 

2 Chinard, Thomas Jefferson, Boston, 1929, p. xvt 

Thomas Jefferson as a Writer 133 

branch of the natural sciences from astronomy through meteorology 
to zoology. Yet, in the twentieth century when the vast accumulation 
of knowledge has made universal inquiry impossible and specializa- 
tion inevitable, versatility is too likely to be regarded either as an 
accomplishment reserved to the geniuses of the earth, and therefore 
inaccessible to the generality of human beings, or as a fruitless dis- 
persal of energy through meaningless inquiry, and therefore not to 
be emulated. 

To view Jefferson's versatile and endless inquiiies from either point 
of view would be to run the risk of unduly magnifying his genius or, 
worse, to miss its central meaning. That he possessed many of the 
qualities of a genius is plain; the drafting of the Declaration of 
Independence and the invention of a cryptographic device more than 
a century in advance of his time 3 to take two wholly unrelated 
examples are surely evidences of an elevated and even inspired 
intellect. But his natural genius was supported by indefatigable 
industry, an industry exhibited with such unremitting application as 
to be almost without parallel. In this varied and ceaseless pursuit of 
knowledge, ramifying in all directions, Jefferson nevertheless rarely 
if ever revealed the defects of his virtues. Omnivorous of knowledge, 
he was the least pedantic of men and scornful of ostentatious learn- 
ing; a prodigious transcriber of statutes, he was never an unimagina- 
tive drudge; a zealous traveler who delighted in new scenes and took 
countless notes on his journeys, he was far removed from the mere 
gazers at new sights; an unrivaled collector of books about his own 
country and about every subject of human thought, he never des- 
cended to bibliolatry; a legislator and therefore a politician, he was 
recognized and respected as one who consistently acted upon prin- 
ciple. The inescapable conclusion a conclusion that has forced itself 
insistently upon those who are editing these volumes is that Jeffer- 
son's compulsion to investigate all avenues of human knowledge was 

This purpose aimed beyond his own time or his own country. 
"Jefferson aspired beyond the ambition of a nationality and embraced 

3 "Jefferson's invention of the Wheel Cypher represents a contribution to 
cryptographic science so far in advance of his time that at least a century had 
to elapse before a similar invention was independently made by a second inventor 
in the field" ( extracted from a communication to the editors, 17 Nov. 1949, from 
William F. Friedman, Chief of the Technical Division, Armed Forces Security 


in Ms view the whole future of man," wrote Henry Adams. This, to 
Jefferson, was the meaning of the American Revolution. "A just and 
solid republican government maintained here/' he wrote to John 
Dickinson, "will be a standing monument and example for the aim 
and imitation of the people of other countries; and I join with you 
in the hope and belief that they will see from our example that a free 
government is of all others the most energetic; that the enquiry which 
has been excited amons the mass of mankind bv our revolution and 

C? i' 

it's consequences, will ameliorate the condition of man over a great 
portion of the globe. What a satisfaction have we in the contempla- 
tion of the benevolent effects of our efforts, compared with those of 
the leaders on the other side, who have discountenanced all advances 
in science as dangerous innovations, have endeavored to render phi- 
losophy and republicanism terms of reproach, to persuade us that 
man cannot be governed but by the rod, &c. I shall have the happi- 
ness of living and dying in the contrary hope.*' 4 But this hope and 
this satisfaction would disappear if the standing monument fell. Its 
strength and virtue lay in its character as an example to be emulated, 
a beacon to be followed. Its force would be a moral force, and this 
meant that all of the citizens of the free government every citizen- 
faced a responsibility to sustain the example and to keep it from fail- 
ure. The urgency that permeated all of Jefferson's versatile activity 
betrayed, perhaps, a fear that the great experiment might fail; that 
the mass of the people here might not be, as he knew they were not 
in some parts of the world ready for the trial; and if he exhibited a 
missionary zeal in what he called the "holy republican gospel," it was 
no doubt because he felt it necessary to set an example to his fellow 
citizens as they in turn were obligated to set it for other peoples. 
When, therefore, as ambassador, he sat in an Italian dairy from dawn 
until dusk to learn the process by which Parmesan cheese was made, 
or when, in the same capacity, he smuggled a few grains of rice from 
the valley of the Po to send to South Carolina; when, as traveler, he 
Jotted down data about "designs for machines and furniture and 
landscape details; recipes for macaroni and other dishes; . . . and 
notes and memoranda on an incredible variety of subjects, from the 
use of Archimedes' screw at Kew to snuff, Sophocles, and specific 

4 To John Dickinson, 6 Mch. 1801. 

Thomas Jefferson as a Writer 135 

gravity"; 5 when, as governor, he interrupted Ms activities in behalf 
of the defense of the commonwealth to answer questions about 
ancient records; when, as president, he investigated the possibilities 
of vaccination against smallpox and, against the preponderance of 
conservative medical opinion, successfully carried out the first mass 
vaccination in America; when, in retirement, he studied new methods 
of improving agriculture or projected an institution of higher learn- 
ing or explored the languages of the Anglo-Saxons and of the Ameri- 
can Indians when he engaged in these and countless other activities, 
his investigations were guided by a central and controlling purpose, 
unifying all and elevating the lowliest to a majestic dignity. 

That purpose is to be found stated and restated, explicitly and 
implicitly, in this and in the volumes that are to follow. It was far 
from being a new concept. But what caused it to seize upon Jefferson 
with the power of religious conviction and to dominate his entire 
Me was the fact that here in America, for the first time in history, the 
philosophical concept seemed ready to march hand in hand with 
actuality. Here was to be tried the grand experiment of self-govern- 
ment, on whose success or failure would hang the future course of 
human improvement. It was reserved to Jefferson to join actuality 
with philosophy for himself, for his countrymen, and for all humanity 
when he wrote: "We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men 
are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain 
inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, & the pursuit 
of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted 
among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the gov- 
erned; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive 
of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, & 
to institute new government, laying it's foundation on such principles 
&: organising it's powers in such form, as to them shall seem most 
likely to effect their safety & happiness." 6 

This, perhaps the most potent idea of modern history, as valid for 
the twentieth century as for the eighteenth, was the idea that gave 
meaning to Jefferson's versatile inquiry and selfless industry. It is the 
idea that dominated and guided his entire life, the idea to which he 

5 Lyman H. Butterfield, "The Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Progress and Pro- 
cedures in the Enterprise at Princeton," American Archivist, XII (1949), 132-3. 

6 Quoted from Jefferson's "original Rough draught" of the Declaration of 


yielded an allegiance warmed by a passionate faith, clarified by a 
brilliant intellect, and expressed by an eloquent and felicitous pen. 
These volumes, like Ms own public life, will begin and end with the 
same affirmation; the principles set forth in the Declaration of Inde- 
pendence were reaffirmed half a century later in a final testament of 
faith: "May it be to the world what I believe it will be (to some parts 
sooner, to others later, but finally to all) the Signal of arousing men 
to burst the chains, under which Monkish ignorance and superstition 
had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings 
and security of self-government. The form which we have substituted 
restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and free- 
dom of opinion. All eyes are opened, or opening to the rights of man. 
The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to 
every view the palpable truth that the mass of mankind has not been 
born, with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and 
spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of god." 7 

"The letters of a person, especially of one whose business has been 
chiefly transacted by letters/' wrote Jefferson late in life, "forms the 
only full and genuine journal of his life." 8 The observation is as 
sound as it is comprehensive, for it views "the letters of a person" not 
merely as those written by him but also as embracing letters received 
and other correspondence involved in the transaction of business. It 
is an observation particularly applicable to the man who made it. 
For Thomas Jefferson ranks high among the great letter writers of 
his own or of any other age, and the Jefferson canon, though it 
includes also public addresses, statutes, state papers, pamphlets, and 
many other types of documents, is to be found primarily in his volumi- 
nous correspondence. The extent of this correspondence is as remark- 
able as its content. Beginning in 1760 when its author was a youthful 
subject of the monarch of Great Britain and ending in 1826 when he 
was already revered as one of the great citizens of the vigorous young 
Republic, this correspondence, carried on with thousands of persons 
of every station of Me scientists, statesmen, explorers, merchants, 
scholars, philosophers, planters, overseers, soldiers, family, and 
friends, at home and abroad is estimated to number upwards of 
fifty thousand separate items. 

7 To Roger C. Weightman, 24 June 1826. 
s To Robert Walsh, 5 Apr. 1823. 

Thomas Jefferson as a Writer 137 

Though the special quality which makes this correspondence still 
significant was the lofty purpose and the felicitous style which char- 
acterized even its most trivial part, its sheer volume and the energy 
required to produce it were as impressive to Jefferson's contempora- 
ries as they are to us. "I wonder how Mr. Jefferson made out to 
answer everybody who wrote to him even while the labours of the 
Department of State and then of the Presidency were on his hands?'* 
wrote William Wirt in 1827. 9 Knowing that Jefferson's lifelong habit 
was to spend several hours daily at his desk, Wirt placed a discern- 
ing finger on one of the chief means by which Jefferson accomplished 
so much when he exclaimed, in answer to his own question, "O! 
System!" As none of Jefferson's contemporaries equaled him in the 
volume and richness of his correspondence, so none equaled him in 
the systematic organization of his personal archives. Though he was 
felicitous in phrasing, Jefferson was not facile in composition, and it 
was not merely his interest in technical improvements that drove him 
to the use of the letterpress, the polygraph, the stylograph, and other 
devices for making multiple copies of letters and documents. These 
devices were means by which his hours at the desk were employed 
creatively rather than in the drudgery of copying. Among the prodi- 
gious letter writers of his generation, for example Washington and 
Franklin, Jefferson was alone also in the production of an exact, 
laboriously compiled, and precisely indexed record of his correspon- 
dencethe so-called "Epistolary Record," extending from 1783 to 
1826, in which he recorded in parallel columns virtually every letter 
that he wrote or received. Important as this remarkable 656-page 
document may have been in enabling its compiler to transact his 
extensive business and in what it reveals to us of his love of system 
and order, it became equally important as a legacy to his editors, pro- 
viding as it does an almost complete census of his letters and also an 
authoritative device for establishing the dates of undated or muti- 
lated letters, for ascertaining the author's whereabouts, and for un- 
locking some of the mysteries of postal communication during his 
time. Nor was this all. Dispersed and confused as Jefferson's personal 
archives have become since 1826, they must have presented at his 
death an exemplary picture of systematic arrangement. A single frag- 
ment of what was probably a comprehensive catalogue of his records 

William Wirt to Dabney Carr, 27 Oct. 1827, MS, Virginia State Library. 


shows In part what that arrangement was. Tills fragment includes 
such rubrics as "Law cases, opinions and tracts"; "State Revolutionary 
proceedings"; "Draughts, Notes &c. relating to Revised Code"; "docu- 
ments for Notes on Virginia"; "Rough draughts, notes &c. while Mem- 
ber of Congress & Minister Plenipo. at Paris."; "Bank Accounts"; 
"Acct books, to wit P. Jefferson. J. Harvey. N. Lewis. Th: JV; and 
"family letters, plantation papers," &c. 10 

* * * * * 

It was only five months after Jefferson had retired as President 
that the first proposal was brought forth to publish "a complete edi- 
tion" of his writings. To this Jefferson gave a depreciative response: 
the Notes on the State of Virginia, he wrote, was to be revised and 
enlarged; messages to Congress, interesting at the moment, would 
scarcely be read a second time, "and answers to addresses are hardly 
read a first time," In short, only those who were in the habit of pre- 
serving state papers would be interested in such a publication and, 
Jefferson added, they "are not many" u 

Historians and the general public have differed with this over- 
modest appraisal. Aside from numerous publications of Jefferson 
documents in newspapers, periodicals, biographies, monographs, and 
selected volumes, there have been four collected editions of his let- 
ters and writings. The first was that edited by his grandson, Thomas 
Jefferson Randolph, Memoirs, Correspondence, and Miscellanies 
from the Papers of Thomas Jefferson, in four volumes, which first 
appeared at Charlottesville in 1829 and was promptly brought out 
in other editions printed in London (1829), Boston (1830), and 
Paris (1833). Tie second was edited by Henry A. Washington, 
The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, published in nine volumes at 
Washington in 1853-1854. The third was The Writings of Thomas 
Jefferson, edited by Paul Leicester Ford and published at New York 
in ten volumes between the years 1892 and 1899; it was reissued in 
twelve volumes as the "Federal Edition," 1904-1905. The fourth, with 
the same tide, was edited by A. A. Lipscomb and A. E. Bergh in 
twenty volumes, Washington, 1903-1904, and was several times 

10 Memorandum in Jefferson's hand, in the possession of Roger W. Barrett, 

11 To John W. Campbell, 3 Sep. 1809. 

Thomas Jefferson as a Writer 139 

The first of these four collected editions was issued in 6,000 cop- 
ies, all of which were subscribed for within the year in which they 
were published. 12 Each succeeding edition, exerting an incalculable 
influence in establishing Jefferson as one of the great figures of 
world history, brought about an increasing demand for a complete 
and more dependable text of his utterances. The reason for this de- 
mand lay not alone in the quality of Jefferson's mind and in the 
warmth of his faith, but also in the character of the editions them- 
selves, all of which are long since out of print The most accurate and 
useful edition that edited by Ford suffered from a severe limitation 
of space and from a disproportionate emphasis upon the purely politi- 
cal aspects of Jefferson's career. The most recent, the most extensive, 
and the most widely used edition that edited by Lipscomb and 
Bergh and usually referred to as the Memorial Edition was in large 
part a mere reprinting of the text of the Henry A. Washington edition 
of 1853-1854. Though Washington's edition of The Writings of 
Thomas Jefferson was a noteworthy accomplishment in its day and 
added greatly to the public knowledge of Jefferson in the mid- 
nineteenth century, it was characterized by the sort of editorial liber- 
ties with the text which reflected the inexact scholarly standards of 
that day. Thus the only edition originating in the twentieth century 
and the one most widely used is one that includes such distortions as 
the willful suppression of names, the silent omission of passages, and 
the substitution of the editors' choice of words for Jefferson's. 

The inaccuracies, incompleteness, and unavailability of all previ- 
ous editions led to an increasing demand on the part of historians for 
an edition of Jefferson's writings so comprehensive in scope and so 
accurate in presentation that the work would never need to be done 
again. . . . 

12 The Virginia Literary Museum, I ( 1829), 432. 



... In our day of public libraries, circulating libraries, book of the 
month clubs, and literary mass production, we can hardly realize the 
power exerted by the classics at a time and in a land where only a 
few books were available. In those days a young man did not take a 
course in intensive reading but he had time for the slow assimilation 
of the best books, for meditation and reflection. We, on the contrary, 
are willy Billy staffed with unwelcome and unpalatable information 
and facts; indeed, according to an advertisement which I recently 
clipped from a newspaper: "Every minute, every hour of the day, 
the world's greatest artists are saturating the very air you breathe, 
the atmosphere around and through your home, with musical enter- 
tainments, information, amusement, and educational features." No 
such intrusion upon the mind's privacy, and no such "saturation" 
were to be feared by the banks of the Rivanna when Thomas Jeffer- 
son was introduced through Homer to the beauties of the Ancient 
World. Reading the old poet, in a canoe which he had built himself, 
the boy dreamed of ancient navigators who sailed the wine-colored 
sea from island to island, of fierce battles, of feasts of warriors, and 
magic vistas of the Greece of old were opened to him. Or, stretched 
out in the shade of the great oak tree which he and his friend Page 
loved so much, he read Virgil, Horace, and Catullus. Strange to say 
it was not an entirely new world, for between these ancient Greeks 
and Romans and the early Americans existed more than one resem- 
blance. From the coast of Maine to Georgia the shore of the Atlantic 
was settled with colonies bearing somewhat the same relation to 
their mother country as did the Greek colonies to their metropolis; 
and Stanyan was in a way, and in anticipation, a sort of epitome of 
American chronicles. 

An address delivered before the Johns Hopkins Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, 
April 12, 1930, printed in The Johns Hopkins Alumni Magazine, Volume 18, 
Number 4, June 1930, and in The American Scholar, Volume 1, Number 2, 
March 1932. Reprinted by permission of Gilbert Chinard. 


Thomas Jefferson as a Classical Scholar 141 

The American settlements, like the ancient civilizations, were large- 
ly agricultural; and this was particularly true of Virginia. There was 
so little difference between the method used by the farmers to make a 
cart-wheel and the description of the same process in Homer that, as 
Jefferson himself pointed out, one might almost believe the American 
agriculturists had borrowed their knowledge from the Greek poet. 
A Virginia plantation presented a striking resemblance to the estate 
of a well-to-do Roman farmer, and, after Horace, Jefferson repeated: 
"Happy the man who, free from business worries, like the men of the 
old days, tills with his oxen his ancestral fields without being har- 
assed by mortgages," solutus omni foenore! And again, "What a joy 
to see the sheep hurrying back to the farm after pasturing, to see the 
tired oxen dragging along the upturned ploughshare, and the young 
slaves, industrious swarm of an opulent house, gathered around the 
resplendent fireplace!" 

This bucolic strain permeated Jefferson's life. Whenever his politi- 
cal duties keep him long from Monticelio, be he detained in Phila- 
delphia, Paris, or Washington, his private letters echo the longing of 
the Latin poet: "O rus, quando te aspiciamr In the midst of political 
strife he yearned for his ancestral acres, the sweet coolness of the 
woods, and the swift running streams of the country of his boyhood. 
In angello cum libello, "to live in a nook of the woods, with a choice 
book" if I may venture this homely translationsuch was the ideal 
life and the limits of his ambition during adolescence. Proud as he 
was of his Anglo-Saxon ancestry, the Mediterranean world neverthe- 
less exerted on him a strange fascination. Once during his trip to 
Italy, traveling a-foot from Louana to Alberga and from village to 
village along the coast, marveling at the incredible azure of the sea, 
he almost forgot his dear Monticelio and exclaimed, "If any person 
wished to retire from his acquaintance, to live absolutely unknown 
and yet in the midst of physical enjoyments, it should be in some of 
the little villages of this coast, where air, water, and earth concur to 
offer what each has most precious!" 

This constant commerce with the Ancients is largely responsible 
for that felicity of expression which made Jefferson famous even 
among his contemporaries and caused him to be designated to frame 
the Declaration of Independence. In certain respects he was an origi- 
nal thinker, but in matters politic the method of expression is far 
more important than the idea itself for ideas are common property, 


at the disposal of aE coiners; the real discoverer Is he who coins the 
felicitous formula enabling it to fly on the lips of men. Clear-cut defi- 
nitions., political aphorisms, and striking formulas abound in the let- 
ters of Jefferson. Passed around and repeated by his friends they 
contributed more rapidly and permanently than long treatises, politi- 
cal disquisitions, or eloquent,, harmonious, and easily forgotten 
speeches, to the diffusion of the Jeffersonian doctrine. Once for all he 
gave expression to the aspirations, the wishes, and ideals of his coun- 
try. More than any other man in your national history he was the 
vox p&puli, and to such a degree, indeed, that even his opponents, 
when they wish to appeal to the fundamental principles which con- 
stitute true Americanism, must use not only his language but his very 
words. Such a quality cannot be entirely acquired it can be strength- 
ened and developed, however, by education; and the classical educa- 
tion which Jefferson gave himself largely accounts for it. Here an 
observation should be made. Jefferson was not blind in his admira- 
tion for the Ancients, hesitating to depart from conventional and 
traditional worship of everything Greek or Latinon the contrary, 
he preserved a singular independence of judgment. At a time when 
Southern oratory was flourishing and American oratory in general 
was taking as a model the worst there is in Cicero he boldly declared: 
"The models for that oratory which is to produce the greatest effect 
by securing the attention of hearers and readers, are to be found in 
Livy, Tacitus, Sallust, and most assuredly not in Cicero/' This state- 
meat explains Jefferson* s abhorrence of rhetorical effects. His speech, 
in wMch metaphors and similes are rarely found, has the trim, 
stripped beauty of a Greek athlete, and for this reason, perhaps, is not 
always appreciated as it should be, Above all he was fond of the 
imperataria brevitas of the Latin language which even monosyllabic 
Anglo-Saxon cannot emulate. He used Latin when writing in one of 
Ms memorandum boolcs those maxims by which he intended to regu- 
late his life: banum est quod honestumex recto deem nan votum 
nobis sed patriaefiat fatfitia ru&t coelum. 

The study of Latin Las declined nowadays to such a degree that a 
Latin quotation is apt to bring an indulgent smile to the lips of the 
hearers. I can hardly conceive of an undergraduate, even a newly 
elected member of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, entering Latin quo- 
tations in his diary; yet less than a hundred and fifty years ago these 
old precepts formed the very substance of the moral life of the men. 

Thomas Jefferson as a Classical Scholar 143 

in Europe as well as in America, who played such important roles in 
the destinies of their countries. 

In our estimate of American civilization we are apt to over-empha- 
size the influence of Puritanism. The fact that some of the men of the 
Revolution had a moral fiber stronger, as it seems, than ours, and 
possessed perhaps superior but sterner virtues than more recent gen- 
erations, may be attributed to the Puritanical "climate" in which they 
lived; but for many of them, and particularly Jefferson, to the influ- 
ence of the Bible was added the influence of the classics, for in spite 
of the apparent supremacy of Puritanism the insidious campaign of 
the Deists had reached the New World, undermining the faith and 
respect for the authority of its traditions. Even more than we, the 
men of the close of the eighteenth century put confidence in science 
and the power of reason. The mechanistic explanations of the uni- 
verse were just as generally accepted then as they are now although 
they rested on foundations that seem to us unscientific. Early in life 
Jefferson had reflected upon the riddle of the universe and soon after 
his introduction, by Governor Fauquier, to the works of Bolingbroke 
he ceased to consider the Bible as containing an authentic account of 
creation and the word of God. In reading Cicero he had come to the 
conclusion that "if either the heart, or the blood, or the brain, is the 
soul, then certainly the soul, being corporeal, must perish with the 
rest of the body; if it is air, it will perhaps be dissolved; if it is fire, 
it will be extinguished." 

At this point of his moral development, he appears to have been 
overwhelmed with despair. More than once in his anguish Jefferson, 
like Orestes in the beginning of Euripides' play, called for the "sov- 
ereign oblivion of suffering, supreme wisdom yearned for by the un- 
happy." He took a sort of bitter pleasure a delectatio morosa not so 
different from the attitude of our new humanists in recording in his 
Commonplace Book the most pessimistic utterances of the ancient 
poets, entering among others the sad conclusion from Anacreon: 

A scanty dust to feed the wind 
Is all the trace *t will leave behind. 

At that time he could have put the query of his old friend, John 
Adams: "Watchman, what of the night? Is darkness that may be felt 
to prevail over the whole world? Or can you perceive any rays of re- 


turning dawnf* The props of traditional faith once removed, his 
moral structure had collapsed, and the young man was left appar- 
ently without a beacon to direct his course. He might have become a 
cynic or a voluptuary; indeed there are indications in the Common- 
place Book that he nearly succumbed to the temptation. After 
Horace he repeated: "Since all earthly beings have received only 
perishable lives and neither the great nor the poor can escape death, 
so my dear friend, enjoy all the good things in life, and while you 
live remember how short life is." But this was just a passing mood 
his aristocratic pride and the stern teachings of the Stoics saved him. 
He was conscious that he was of good stock and he had read in 
Euripides: To be of the noble born gives a peculiar distinction 
clearly marked among men, and the noble name increases in lustre 
in those who are worthy" 

Ever to be upright and worthy of one's good blood was the sim- 
plest, the most obvious, the most imperious duty yet some coherent 
system, some working hypothesis must be found to justify one*s ex- 
istence. To dismiss from the mind all preoccupation regarding future 
life, to attain the ataraxia of the ancient sages, was at best an opiate, 
not a remedy; and to rebuild a whole theory of life on enlightened 
self-interest, as had been proposed by several philosophers, seemed 
to him unsatisfactory. Equally unsatisfactory were the theories which 
"placed the foundation of morality in truth, the To Kalon, etc., as 
fanciful writers have imagined." Taking his cue from Bolingbroke, he 
consequently undertook to construct a system from the writings of 
the "ancient heathen moralists, of Tully and Seneca, of Epictetus 
and others," which would be "more full, more coherent, and more 
clearly deduced from unquestionable principles of knowledge." Are 
not the "new humanists" turning to Aristotle, Confucius, and Buddha 
in a similar endeavor? 

Whatever system might be adopted, it was evident that a man 
could never justify his existence, even in his own eyes, unless he lived 
for others as much as for himself, and thought beyond the narrow 
span allotted to him. After Cicero he repeated: "Death which threat- 
ens us daily from a thousand accidents, and which, by reason of the 
shortness of life, can never be far off, does not deter a wise man from 
making such provision for his country and his family as he hopes may 
last forever, and from regarding posterity, of which he can never 
have any real perception, as belonging to himself ? To devote oneself 

Thomas Jefferson as a Classical Scholar 145 

to some great task, to associate in some worthy undertaking, to sur- 
vive in one's deeds this is the most consoling substitute for the old 
faith in personal immortality. As Euripides said: "Nay for myself 
while living day by day, even if my lot were humble, it would be 
quite enough; but as for a tomb I should wish mine to be one that men 
honor when they see it; long enduring is that satisfaction." And Jef- 
ferson, had he not chosen to inscribe on his monument the simple 
enumeration of his three great contributions to the moral progress 
of his country, could have found no more fitting epitaph. 

It was at this period of his development that the young man, with 
little practical experience, culled from Homer and Euripides the 
maxims by which he was to govern his life. In the moral works of 
Cicero and in the old writers who had crystallized the experiences of 
countless generations he found precious bits of worldly wisdom. And 
after all, in spite of the hypotheses of our modern psychologists, 
knowledge of the human heart has advanced very little; the basic facts 
regulating the relations between human beings living side by side in 
a given society have not changed much since the days of Homer. 
"Man," wrote Jefferson, "was destined for society. His morality, 
therefore, was to be formed on this object. He was endowed with a 
sense of right and wrong merely relative to this. This sense is as much 
part of his nature as the sense of hearing, seeing, feeling; it is the true 
foundation of morality " 

Thus bit by bit, stone by stone, Thomas Jefferson in his student 
days reerected the moral structure which had been torn down by the 
philosophical storm of the eighteenth century; thus he determined to 
live "as if posterity belonged to him," and to work for the future 
without much hope of any immediate and personal reward, for he 
had learned that "the race of men is ungrateful," and "most cities 
are so constituted that a man who is noble and zealous wins no 
higher prize than baser men." This knowledge of the past preserved 
him from the blind optimism of so many reformers for whatever one 
may aim to accomplish, he must realize that mankind does not ad- 
vance by leaps and bounds, but "in a snail-gaited progress." Slow as 
this progress had been it was, however, real; and Jefferson was the 
first to acknowledge that the courageous, stoic, and disenchanted 
philosophy upon which he relied for a time had its limitations. Cicero 
had admitted that there is by nature something soft and tender in our 
souls est natura in animis tenerum qtiiddam atque molleand Sen- 


eca had coined the beautiful expression caritas generis humani to 
define the solidarity existing between all men, irrespective of creed 
or race; but later in life Jefferson realized that "in developing our 
duties to others [the ancient philosophers] were short and defective. 
They embraced indeed, the circles of kindred and friends, and incul- 
cated patriotism or the love of our country in the aggregate, as a 
primary obligation; towards our neighbors and countrymen they 
taught justice, but scarcely viewed them as within the circle of be- 
nevolence. Still less have they inculcated peace, charity, and love of 
our fellow men, or embraced with benevolence the whole family of 

This humanitarian mood would probably draw the fire of the 
humanists, and Professor Babbitt on this occasion might reiterate the 
accusations launched against Jefferson in his volume entitled Leader- 
ship and Democracy, but, old-fashioned, sentimental professor that I 
am, I confess that I would rather agree with Cicero and Jefferson 
than with my stern colleague from granite-clad New England, and 
with them hold that non silice nati sumu$we are not the offspring of 

In still another respect Jefferson would disagree with the new 
humanists. He saw no antinomy in his creed combining the teachings 
of the pagan philosophers with the morals of Jesus and material 
progress or scientific discoveries. With Bolingbroke he agreed that 
"there is a gradation of sense and intelligence here from animal be- 
ings imperceptible to us for their minuteness, without the help of 
microscopes, and even with them, up to man, in whom, though this 
be their highest stage, sense and intelligence stop short and remain 
very imperfect/' He saw nothing distressing in the assumption that 
man was made for the planet, and not the planet for man: "The habi- 
tation is fit for him, and he is fitted to live in it. He could not exist in 
any other. But will it follow that the planet was made for him, not 
he for the planet? The ass would be scorched in Venus or Mercury 
and be frozen in Jupiter or Saturn. Will it follow that this temperate 
planet was made for him to bray and to eat thistles in it?" 

Such a contemplation of the very unimportant place we occupy in 
the general scheme of the universe should not unduly depress us nor 
deter us from our immediate duties. After all, concluded Jefferson, 
the business of life is with life, that is to say, with matter; and our 
first preoccupation should be to know the world in which we live 

Thomas Jefferson as a Classical Scholar 147 

our most imperious task, to utilize and develop the resources at our 
disposal. He was too fond of new inventions to be afraid of machinism. 
The man who knew how to plan and construct all the ingenious con- 
traptions with which he surrounded himself was not afraid of being 
crushed or annihilated by machines. His knowledge of the ploughs 
used by the ancients did not prevent him from inventing a new one, 
better in design and more effective; the man who had built for him- 
self the curious pantograph, which enabled him to make four copies 
of a letter at one time, would not have hesitated to use a typewriter. 
Most certainly he would not have considered material progress an 
obstacle to moral advancement; and were he to come back today he 
would probably find that the problems so greatly agitating us do not 
differ essentially from those confronting him when he was a student 
at William and Mary and which he solved with the help of the old 
philosophers. If dragged into the controversy he would no doubt 
write a long letter to Professor Babbitt and Mr. Paul Elmer Moore. 
He would admit, with them, that some "inner check" is needed to 
control our moral life; he would call their attention to the fact that, in 
his youth, he too felt the greatest admiration for certain old phi- 
losophers "whose principles related chiefly to ourselves and the gov- 
ernment of those passions which, unrestrained, would disturb our 
tranquillity of mind"; but he would add that he had clearly seen the 
necessity of completing those principles and theories with something 
less humanistic, perhaps, but certainly more human. 

Thus, as he advanced in age, the classics ceased to be the sole 
staff upon which Jefferson leaned; but his love for the old masters 
who had taught him to look at life with courage remained undimin- 
ished. Now he read them for pleasure rather than with a practical 
object in mind. "I enjoyed Homer in his own language infinitely be- 
yond Pope's translation of him," he wrote, in 1800, to Priestley, "and 
both beyond the dull narrative of the same event by Dares Phrygius; 
and it is an innocent enjoyment. I thank on my knees him who directed 
my early education, for having put into my possession this rich source 
of delight; and I would not exchange it for anything which I could 
then have acquired, and have not acquired." 

Jefferson had commissioned Ticknor to send him from Europe the 
best and most recent editions of Greek and Latin classics, but I have 
a suspicion that more than once he preferred the thin scrap-book 
with yellow leaves and turned-up corners, kept by Mrs. Randolph 


**among her treasures/' in which he had gathered the essence of 
ancient wisdom, and, thumbing its pages, he reviewed his life in the 
light of the old maxims he had copied when a student. Time and 
again his experience bore witness to the wisdom of the sages. At last, 
like the Roman farmer, he was back on his ancestral acres and, read- 
ing in his book the famous lines of Horace, O ru$, quando te aspiciam, 
he could feel that having fulfilled one of his most cherished and con- 
stant desires, he might now be permitted "to read the books of ancient 
writers/' or to give "to sleep drowsy hours to enjoy the sweet oblivion 
of a restless existence." 


As a scientific man Jefferson was interested in all lines of science, but 
in all rather as an enthusiastic, highly appreciative, and intelligent 
amateur than as a professional. He had no time to make himself thor- 
oughly proficient in any one line. The working out of the details he 
left to others, whom he assisted and encouraged to the best of his 
ability. His tremendous enthusiasm, which continued unabated, or 
perhaps even increased, during his term of office as President of the 
United States, was a most important factor in bringing before the 
people the value of science. 

Tangible evidence of Jefferson's many and varied scientific inter- 
ests is furnished by his contributions to the proceedings and collec- 
tions of the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia, of which 
he was elected a member, together with George Washington, in 1786, 
after the death of David Rittenhouse succeeding him as the third 
president of the Society on January 6, 1797. His contributions to the 
Society's program and collections were in the fields of meteorology, 
chemistry, economic entomology, archeology, vertebrate paleontol- 
ogy, and applied mechanics in reference to agricultural operations. 

On December 17, 1779, there was recorded in the Society's pro- 
ceedings a letter from Rev'd Wm. Maddison (sic), president of 
William and Mary College, containing "a series of Meteorological 
Observations by His Excellency Governor Jefferson and himself sep- 
arately, for a year and a half; likewise a set of Experiments on what 
are called 'Sweet Springs'." On April 15, 1791, on motion of Jefferson, 
a select committee (consisting of Jefferson and four others) was ap- 
pointed to collect materials for forming the natural history of the 
Hessian fly and determining the best means for its prevention or 
destruction "and whatever else relative to the same may be interest- 
ing to agriculture." On August 19, 1791, he presented to the Society 

Excerpt from "Thomas Jefferson and Science," by Austin H. Clark in Journal 
of the Washington Academy of Sciences, Volume 33, Number 7, July 15, 1943. 
Reprinted by permission of Austin H. Clark. 



"a curious piece of Indian sculpture, supposed to represent an Indian 
woman In labor, found near Cumberland River, Virginia." On August 
!9 7 1796 3 Ms letter to Rittenhouse (deceased) describing bones o 
extraordinary size found beyond the Blue Mountains In Virginia [in 
a cave in Greeiibrier County, W. Va.j "appearing to be of the Tyger- 
lion & Pantlier species'* was 'read by Dr. Barton. Under date of March 
10, 1797, we read: "Jefferson's memoire 'On the Discovery of certain 
Bones of a Quadruped of the [space of four lines left blank] .* A reso- 
lution was passed ordering the memoir to be put in the hands of the 
Committee of Selection of Publications, drawings of the bones to "be 
made by a proper person. Mr. Peale was requested to put the bones 
'in the best order for the Society's use /* These were the bones of 
the famous Megatonyx, the first giant sloth found in North America, 
and formed the subject of the only scientific memoir ever published 
by Jefferson, which appeared in 1799. On January 19, 1798, lie pre- 
sented to the Society bones of a mammoth "some time ago found IB 
Virginia.*" On April 20, 1798, he presented a hand threshing machine 
invented by T. C. Martin of Virginia, ''which he had procured to be 
made." On May 4, 1798, a "Description of a Mould Board of the least 
resistance, &c.,~ by Mr. Jefferson was read and referred to Mr. Patter- 
son. This is the first mention of his famous plow. On May 7, 1804, 
W. Lewis, of Campbell County, Va., donated a bone and some rocks 
through Jefferson. On April 27, 1805, William Bartram sent some 
bones to be forwarded to [Jefferson at] Monticello. 

Much more detailed evidence of his extensive interests is furnished 
by his famous hook on Virginia. In June, 1781, he was injured by a 
fall from Ms horse, and he occupied the leisure forced upon him by 
this accident in organizing the abundant and accurate memoranda 
that he had accumulated over a series of years. These memoranda 
were arranged in the order of a series of questions that had been sub- 
mitted to him by M. Barbe de Marbois, Secretary of the French Le- 
gation, During the winter of 1782-88 he revised and expanded them 
and had them published in 1784 under the title of "Notes on the State 
of Virginia," The date of this work is given as 1782, which is prob- 
ably the date of the completion of the manuscript, as he did not 
reach Paris until 1784, Two hundred copies were privately printed, 
as the work was not intended for general distribution. According to 
Sabin, a copy presented to M. Malherbe has the following note in 
Jefferson's handwriting: "Mr. Jefferson having had a few copies of 

Thomas Jefferson and Science 151 

these notes printed to present to some of his friends, and to some 
estimable characters beyond that line, takes the liberty of presenting 
a copy to M. de Malherbe, as a testimony to his respect to his charac- 
ter. Unwilling to expose them to the pubHc eye, he begs the favour 
of M. de M. to put them into the hands of no person on whose care 
and fidelity he cannot rely, to guard them against publication.*' 

This work, however, did not long remain confidential. A French 
translation, with a map, entitled "Observations sur la Virginie, par 
M. J***. Traduit de FAnglais," was published in Paris in 1786, and 
an English reprint of the original was published in London in 1788. 
The first American edition was published in Philadelphia in 1788. 
In the Virginia Independent Chronicle (Richmond) for Wednes- 
day, December 12, 1787, we read that "the work will be com- 
prised in a handsome octavo volume, with an elegant type and 
good paper, and delivered to the subscribers neatly bound and let- 
tered at the very moderate price of one dollar. The price to non- 
subscribers will be seven shillings and six pence Virginia currency 
. . . Subscriptions are taken in at Mr. Davis's Printing-Office in Rich- 
mond, where a specimen of the work is left for inspection." A second 
edition was printed in Philadelphia in the same year. This was fol- 
lowed by many other American editions Philadelphia, 1792, 1794, 
1801, 1812, 1815, 1825; Baltimore, 1800 (two editions); New York, 
1801, 1804; Newark, 1801; Boston, 1801, 1829, 1832; Trenton, 1803, 
1812; and Richmond, 1853. There was also a German translation en- 
titled "Beschreibung von Virginien," published at Leipzig in 1789. 

This was the first comprehensive treatise to be published on any 
section of the United States. In it were discussed the boundaries of 
the State, the rivers, the seaports, the mountains, the cascades, the 
mineral, vegetable, and animal productions, climate, population, 
military force, marine force, aborigines, etc. It was the precursor of 
that great library of more or less similar reports that have been issued 
by the State and Federal Governments. Measured by its influence, 
it was the most important scientific work published in America up to 
this time. It laid the foundation for Jefferson's high contemporary 
reputation as a universal scholar, and for his enduring fame as a 
pioneer American scientific man. 

Further evidence of his interests is given by various printed re- 
ports, such as his report of July 4, 1790, presented to Congress on 
July 13, in which he made suggestions regarding a plan for establish- 

152 AUSTIN H. 

ing uniformity in the coinage antd in the weights and measures o 
the United States, the first suggestion of the idea that was subse- 
quently expanded into the National Bureau of Standards, and his 
scholarly report on the history and economics of the cod and whale 
fisheries' made to the House of Representatives on February 1, 1791, 
and published on January 8, 1872. 

Then there are the manuscript notes left by him, among which are 
the extensive meteorological records kept at Monticello, his notices 
of the first appearance of the birds and flowers in spring, and his 
comparative notes on Indian languages. 

But by far the greatest part of what we know regarding Jefferson's 
scientific interests is gathered from the great number of letters that 
he wrote to various friends and that were published after his death* 

Applied science appealed to him quite as much as pure science. He 
was much interested In horticulture and in every form of agriculture. 
Botany was always a favorite subject with him, and he had one of 
the best botanical libraries in America, though on this he never pub- 
lished anything further than the lists of plants in his "Notes on the 
State of Virginia," which includes the first description of the pecan, 
written in 1781 or 1782. 

Jefferson was an inventor of great ingenuity, as is made evident at 
once by a visit to his home at Moaticello. He also had a keen interest 
in the inventions of others, especially those of practical application. 
When he was in France he wrote dozens of letters about inventions. 
When on a visit to England in 1786 he made careful notes on English 
domestic gardening and on mechanical appliances. He went to 
northern Italy in 1787 to inspect machines for cleaning rice, and in 
1788 he made other observations in Germany. At the time of the crea- 
tion of the Patent Office, Jefferson was Secretary of State, As such, he 
became ex officio the Keeper of the Records of the Patents, and accord- 
ing to Dr. Frederick E. Brasch was the most active examining member 
of the board, and therefore its first administrator. Dr. Brasch says that 
the scientific foresight that he exercised at this time must be con- 
sidered the cornerstone of our patent system and patent laws. 

Jefferson's keen interest in inventions more than anything else 
gives the key to his interest in science in general, which was the ulti- 
mate practical application of scientific discoveries for the good of 
man. No matter what line of scientific investigation he undertook, 
this idea of ultimate practical application seems always to have been 

Thomas Jefferson and Science 153 

in his mind. He seems never to have followed any line through mere 
pointless curiosity. Even in his study of fossils he appears to have 
had the idea that some time, somehow, a knowledge of them would 
prove of value. 

Of his numerous and varied scientific interests, three deserve 
special mention. First and foremost was his interest in man in general, 
evidenced not only by his political philosophy but also by his de- 
tailed study of the native Indians and his efforts to improve their re- 
lations with the Europeans, and by his sympathetic study of the 
Negroes; second was his interest in the exploration and description 
of the country; and third was his interest in paleontology. 

The French historian and philosopher Guillaume Thomas Fran- 
cois Raynal, usually called the Abbe Raynal, a leader of the French 
freethinkers who was exiled from France in 1781, had maintained, 
among other things, that Europeans had degenerated in America, 
and that the American Indians were a degenerate race. Jefferson 
denied this, and he also denied that the American Indians are inferior 
to Europeans in the same state of culture. He also said he has sup- 
posed that the black man, in his present state, might not be equal to 
the European, "but it would be hazardous to affirm that, equally 
cultivated for a few generations, he would not become so." In his 
"Notes on the State of Virginia" he gave an excellent account of the 
Indians and described the "barrows of which many are to be found 
all over this country," listing the contents of one in the Eivanna 
River bottom. He also described the characteristics of the Negroes 
in dispassionate detail. 

He was greatly interested in the multiplicity of radically different 
Indian languages and contrasted this with the lack of diversification 
among the red men of eastern Asia. He said that "the resemblance 
between the Indians of America and the eastern inhabitants of Asia, 
would induce us to conjecture, that the former are the descendants 
of the latter, or the latter of the former; excepting, indeed, the Eski- 
maux, who, from the same circumstances of resemblance, must be 
derived from the Greenlanders, and thus probably from some of the 
northern parts of the old continent." 

In his "Notes on the State of Virginia" he wrote: "Were vocabu- 
laries formed of all the languages spoken in North and South Amer- 
ica, preserving their appellations of the most common objects in 
nature, of those which must be present to every nation, barbarians or 


civilized, with the Inlections of their names and verbs, their prin- 
ciples of' regimen and concord, and these deposited in aH the public 
libraries, it would famish opportunities to those skilled in the lan- 
guages of the old ivorld to compare them with the new, now or at 
any future time, and hence to construct the best evidence of the deri- 
vation of this part of the human race." He compiled comparative 
vocabularies of various Indian tribes, which were unfortunately 
stolen; but some fragments of these are deposited in the American 
Philosophical Society's archives. 

Dr. Clark Wissler'has pointed out that at about the same time the 
Empress Catharine the Great of Russia had adopted the same ap- 
proach to the study of languages and had written to President Wash- 
ington for lists of Indian vocabularies. 

wether Lewis in 1803 when the Lewis and Clark Expedition was 
about to be organized. These were as follows: "The commerce which 
may be carried on with the people inhabiting the lines you will pur- 
sue' renders a knowledge of these people important. You will there- 
fore endeavour to make yourself acquainted, as far as a diligent pur- 
suit of your journey shall admit, with the names of the natives and 
their numbers; the extent and limits of their possessions; their rela- 
tions with other tribes or nations; their language, traditions, monu- 
ments; their ordinary occupations in agriculture, fishing, hunting > 
war, arts, and the implements for these; their food, clothing, and do- 
mestic accommodations; the diseases prevalent among them, and 
the remedies they use; moral and physical circumstances which dis- 
tinguish them from the tribes we know; peculiarities in their laws, 
customs, and dispositions; and articles of commerce they may need 
or furnish, and to what extent. And considering the interest which 
every nation has in extending and strengthening the authority of 
reason and justice among the people around them, it will be useful 
to acquire what knowledge you can of the state of morality, religion, 
and information among them, as it may better enable those who may 
endeavour to civilize and instruct them to adapt their measures to 
the existing notions and practices of those on whom they are to 
operate . . . 

"In all your intercourse with the natives, treat them in the most 
friendly and conciliatory manner which their own conduct will admit; 

Thomas Jeferson and Science 155 

allay all jealousies as to the object of your journey; satisfy them of 
its innocence; make them acquainted with the position, extent, char- 
acter, peaceable and commercial dispositions of the United States, of 
our wish to be neighbourly, friendly and useful to them, and of our 
dispositions to a commercial intercourse with them; confer with them 
on the points most convenient as mutual emporiums, and the articles 
of most desirable interchange for them and us. If a few of their influ- 
ential chiefs, within practicable distance, wish to visit us, arrange 
such a visit with them, and furnish them with authority to caU on our 
officers on their entering the United States, to have them conveyed 
to this place at the public expense. If any of them should wish to 
have some of their young people brought up with us, and taught 
such arts as may be useful to them, we will receive, instruct, and take 
care of them. Such a mission, whether of influential chiefs or of 
young people, would give some security to your own party. Carry 
with you some matter of the kine-pox, inform those of them with 
whom you may be of its efficiency as a preservation from the small- 
pox and instruct and encourage them in the use of it. This may be 
especially done wherever you winter.' 7 

Dr. O. F. Cook wrote that the traditional sponsors of the repatria- 
tion and colonization of the Negroes in west Africa were Thomas 
Jefferson and George Washington. Jefferson studied the racial prob- 
lem from many sides, including the need of educating the more 
capable Negroes so that they might furnish the necessary skill and 
leadership for the new communities in Africa. Washington instructed 
his executors to provide such education for some of his freedmen. 

Almost immediately after his inauguration as the third President 
of the United States Jefferson began to make preparations for devel- 
oping his long-cherished plans for the exploration of the great and 
unknown West and the discovery and description of its vast resources. 
His secretary, Capt. Meriwether Lewis, of Albemarle County, Va., 
who had long wished to go on an exploring expedition, was ap- 
pointed leader of the first party to be sent out partly at Jefferson's 
personal expense. Captain Lewis chose as his chief associate Capt. 
William Clark, also of Albemarle County, a younger brother of Gen. 
George Rogers Clark. The choice of these two leaders was a most 
fortunate one, and the expedition, which was in the field from 1803 
(the year in which the territory extending from New Orleans to 
British America and westward to the Rocky Mountains known as 


Louisiana was purchased from Napoleon) until 1806 was highly suc- 
cessful This was the first of a long series of more or less similar expe- 
ditions by which a detailed knowledge of our great West and of its 
resources and products was gradually accumulated. These expedi- 
tions, at first individual enterprises, were later consolidated under 
the United States Geological Survey. 

Jefferson's interest in exploration was not confined to the land 
areas. Dr. Brasch writes that in 1808 he made a recommendation for 
a Coast Survey to Congress, which took favorable action on Febru- 
ary 10, 1807, and authorized the President to cause a survey to be 
made of the coasts of the United States, including islands, shoals, 
and all other physical features deemed proper for completing an 
accurate chart of 'every part of the coast This project was later or- 
ganized as the United States Coast (now Coast and Geodetic) Sur- 
vey. Dr. Brasch adds that during Jefferson's second term die idea of 
establishing longitude through Washington (77 03' 58" west of 
Greenwich, England) was much discussed. Jefferson's thorough 
knowledge of astronomy and mathematics, together with navigation, 
enabled him to give much encouragement to members o Congress 
who wished to establish this standard American longitude. This dis- 
cussion, according to Dr, Brasch, eventually led to the establishment 
of the Naval Observatory and the Hydrographic Office. 

Enthusiasm for vertebrate paleontology seems to have been 
awakened in Jefferson before 1781, after which time he lost no op- 
portunity for securing and examining bones. He was always es- 
pecially interested in the mastodons, or "mammoths," and in the 
great sloth that he had called Megalonyx. As in other branches of 
science, his interest in paleontology was chiefly that of an enthusiastic 
amateur, and a stimulator of interest in others. Dr. Henry Fairfield 
Osborn has pointed out that in developing his scientific opinions in 
regard to paleontology he at first quoted the current tradition, later 
becoming a more serious and independent investigator. 

The Lewis and Clark Expedition had brought back a few interest- 
ing fossils, which had whetted Jefferson's desire for more. In the 
summer of 1807 Captain Clark was sent on another expedition to 
Louisiana that took him through the region of Big Bone Lick, in 
Boone County, Ky. In obedience to President Jefferson's desires he 
stopped there and, employing ten laborers for several weeks, made a 
large collection of about 300 bones, which he shipped to Jefferson at 

Thomas Jeferson and Science 157 

the White House. Here they were laid out in the then unfinished 
East Room, the "mastodon room," where, at Jefferson's invitation, and 
later at Philadelphia, they were examined by Dr. Caspar Wistar. 
Jefferson's interest in paleontology while President, as remarked 
by Dr. George Gaylord Simpson, helped to make it a respectable 
and honored pursuit, and he was largely responsible for bringing 
together the materials necessary for its advancement. He greatly en- 
couraged the study of vertebrate paleontology by the American Phil- 
osophical Society while he was president of it He also acted for a 
time as president of the board of trustees of Peale's Philadelphia 
Museum, which included the first public exhibition of fossil verte- 
brates, and the first mounted fossil skeleton in America. As the fore- 
most citizen of the young nation, Jefferson's outspoken and excited 
interest in fossils conferred on their study the dignity and prestige 
inseparable from his personality and position. But it also brought 
down upon him the ridicule and wrath of many of his countrymen 
to whom scientific investigation meant wanton and deliberate neg- 
lect of one's proper duties, if not, indeed, atheism. This attitude is 
well illustrated by a poem written by William Gullen Bryant at the 
age of 13, which runs in part as follows: 

Go, wretch, resign thy presidential chair, 
Disclose thy secret measures, foul or fair, 
Go, search with curious eye, for horned frogs, 
Mid the wild wastes of Louisianian bogs; 
Or, where the Ohio rolls his turbid stream, 
Dig for huge bones, thy glory and thy theme. 

It is only fair to Bryant to say that this poem, entitled "The Em- 
bargo," was published not by himself but by his father, Dr. Peter 
Bryant, and that he did his best to suppress it. 

It must not be supposed that during his brilliant and eventful 
career Jefferson was neglectful of his scientific colleagues in his na- 
tive state of Virginia. Before the American Philosophical Society had 
elected more than a very few members from Virginia there was or- 
ganized at Williamsburg on November 20, 1773, "The Virginia So- 
ciety for the Promotion of Useful Knowledge." The charter was 
signed by six prominent Virginians, including the Hon. John Page, 
then lieutenant governor, who was elected vice-president, the presi- 


dent being John Clayton. Of the six who signed the constitution, 
John Walker was already a member of the American Philosophical 
Society, which James McClurg joined in the following year, and 
Mann Page later. 

The notices regarding the activities of this Society were published 
in the Virginia Gazette at Williamsburg. There is no reference to 
Jefferson in any of them, but he was presumably a member, for in a 
letter written in 17S7 in answer to one from John Page, who had 
urged him to accept the presidency, he wrote that "he should feel 
himself out of his true place to stand before McClurg," who was 
probably president at the time. 

In its early years the society seems to have been well received by 
the people of the colony; but after 1774 there are few published no- 
tices of it, although it appears to have kept up an organization for a 
considerable time. 

Jefferson was in France from August 6, 1784, to October, 1789, suc- 
ceeding Benjamin Franldin as Minister in 1785. Dumas Malone writes 
that, rightly regarded in France as a savant, he carried on the tradition 
of Franldin, but until the end of his stay he was overshadowed by 
Franklin's immense reputation. His attitude toward Franklin, whom 
he regarded as the greatest American, was one of becoming modesty, 
without a tinge of jealousy. 

At that time France was regarded as the leader in the biological 
sciences; but Jefferson thought little of French science. He vigorously 
combated what he considered the disparagement of the Ainerican 
fauna by Georges Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, who maintained 
that the animals common to both the Old and the New World are 
smaller in the latter; that those peculiar to the New World are on a 
smaller scale; that those which have been domesticated in both have 
degenerated in America; and that, on the whole, America exhibits 
fewer species. In order to correct these impressions, Jefferson pro- 
cured from America at his own expense and presented to the Comte 
de Buffon the bones and skin of a moose, the horns of another in- 
dividual of the same species, and horns of the caribou, the elk, the 
deer, the spiked horned buck, and the roebuck of America. Buffon 
also maintained, much to the annoyance of Jefferson, that the Ameri- 
can mastodon, or "mammoth," was the same as the elephant of Africa 
and Asia. 

He does not seem to have had a very high regard for Buffon. In a 

Thomas Jeferson and Science 159 

letter to President Madison of William and Mary- he wrote: *Speak- 
ing one day with M. de Buffon on the present ardor of chemical in- 
quiry, he affected to consider chemistry but as cooker}', and to place 
the toils of the laboratory on a footing with those of the kitchen. I 
think It, on the contrary, among the most useful of sciences and big 
with future discoveries for the utility and safety of the human race. 

Dumas Malone writes that Jefferson became associated with an 
extraordinary number of important societies in various countries of 
Europe, as he had long been with the chief learned, and almost all the 
agricultural, societies of America. Much, but by no means all, of this 
recognition was due to his political prominence. On December 26, 
1801, he was elected an "associe etranger" of the Institute of France; 
if this was by virtue of his position at all, it was because of his presi- 
dency of the American Philosophical Society. Mr. Malone says that 
this signal honor, which during his lif etime was shared by no other 
man of American birth and residence, may be attributed to his repu- 
tation in France as the most conspicuous American intellectual. He 
himself modestly interpreted it as "an evidence of the brotherly spirit 
of science, which unites into one family all its votaries of whatever 
grade, and however widely dispersed throughout the different quar- 
ters of the globe/* 

Modern scholars, according to Mr. Malone, have recognized Jeffer- 
son as an American pioneer in numerous branches of science, notably 
paleontology, ethnology, geography, and botany. Living long before 
the age of specialization, he was a careful investigator, no more 
credulous than his learned contemporaries, and notable among them 
for his effort in all fields to attain scientific exactitude. 

But Jefferson saw all these branches of science not as independent 
units but as integral parts of an all-embracing whole that should be 
developed for the sake of the future happiness and prosperity of 
mankind, for the ultimate good of his fellow men was always in his 
thoughts. It was this scientific foresight that led him to advocate so 
vigorously the idea that science would be the cornerstone of our 
Republic. In 1789 he wrote to President Willard of Harvard: '"What 
a field we have at our doors to signalize ourselves in. The botany of 
America is far from being exhausted, its mineralogy is untouched, 
and its natural history or zoology totally mistaken and misrepre- 
sented ... It is for such institutions as that over which you preside 
so worthily, Sir, to do justice to our country, its productions, and its 


genius. It is the work to which the young men you are forming should 
lay their hands. We have spent the prime of our lives in procuring 
them the precious blessings of liberty. Let them spend theirs In 
showing that it is the great parent of science and virtue, and that a 
nation will be great in both always as it is free." 

Such was the opinion of Thomas Jefferson, the most versatile and 
the most influential of our American scientific men. 

I ; 

Jefferson at 59. 

Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore 

Jefferson at 61. 

Courtesy of the Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, Massachusetts 


No discussion of Jefferson's literary tastes can be complete without 
mention of what many consider the greatest work of all time, the 
Bible. This, in turn, raises the question of his religion and of the 
many unjust charges that have been leveled against him. That the 
wise and liberal man who sponsored the "Statute of Virginia for 
Religious Freedom" should by some have been considered an infidel, 
is one of those amazing anomalies that occasionally occur. Perhaps 
the greatest harm Jefferson ever did himself was the observation in 
his "Notes on Virginia" that "it does me no injury for my neighbor to 
say there are twenty gods or no God." This was immediately taken 
up by his enemies, as well as by many right-thinking people with no 
critical faculty, as a confession of atheism, and to this day some of 
the stigma still clings to Jefferson's reputation. It is overlooked that 
he was elected a vestryman of Fredericksville parish in November 
1767, and served there until St. Anne's parish was formed. Here he 
again served as vestryman from 1772-1785. Even in his old age, when 
religious services were held in the courthouse in Charlottesville, he 
would ride to town on horseback bringing his own seat, "some light 
machinery which folded up, was carried under his arm, and, when 
unfolded, served for a chair on the floor of the courthouse." That he 
was a faithful disciple of the principles of Jesus Christ, that he felt 
"there never was a more pure and sublime system of morality deliv- 
ered to man than is to be found in the four evangelists," was as nothing 
in view of his independence in applying the principles of historical 
criticism to the divine word. 

From Jefferson: The Road to Glory, 1743 to 1776, by Marie Kimball. Copy- 
right 1943 by Coward-McCann, Inc. Reprinted by permission. With additions 
made by the author for this anthology. 



Again quoting Edmund Bandolph, we learn at first hand how 
Jefferson's contemporaries viewed this Independence of spirit <0 When 
Mr. Jefferson first attracted notice, Christianity was directly denied 
in Virginia only by a few. He was an adept however in the ensnaring 
subtleties of deism, and gave It, among the rising generation, a philo- 
sophical patronage; which repudiates as falsehoods things unsuscep- 
tible of strict demonstration. It is believed, that while such tenets as 
are in contempt of the gospel, inevitably terminate in espousing the 
fullest latitude in religious freedom, Mr. Jefferson's love of liberty, 
wotild itself have produced the same effects. But his opinions against 
restraints on conscience ingratiated him with the enemies of the 
establishment, who did not stop to enquire, how far those opinions 
might border on scepticism or infidelity. Parties in religion and poli- 
tics rarelv scan with nicety the peculiar private opinions of their 

Some writers have felt that it was the reading of Bolingbroke's 
philosophical essays "the blunderbuss charged against religion and 
morality," as Johnson said that first caused Jefferson to question the 
Bible and probe into his own religious beliefs. It seems more likely 
that what he acquired from Bolingbroke was the critical attitude 
the attitude that questions before it believes. This was undoubtedly 
augmented by his contact with William Small, to whom, as we have 
seen, Jefferson often paid tribute. He was one of the first truly liberal 
and broad-minded men with whom young Jefferson had come in 
contact, and his influence was proportionate. Furthermore, it was 
inevitable that Jefferson should share in the attempt of the eighteenth 
century to put religion on a rational basis. He was too intelligent and 
too broadly educated not to have been early puzzled and disturbed 
by problems concerning religious dogma. His open mind, his willing- 
ness to discuss the pros and cons of a question, was undoubtedly one 
of the bonds that linked the young Jefferson to the worldly Fauquier 
and the wise Wythe. The latter likewise suffered under the charge of 
being an heretic. Among the few papers of Wythe that are preserved 
is a statement he delivered on his attitude on this subject. "As to 
religion: I have ever considered it our best and greatest Friend, 
those glorious views which it gives of our relation to God, and of our 
destination in Heaven, on the easy terms of a good life, unquestion* 
ably furnish the best of all motives to virtue; the strongest disuasives 
from vice; and the richest cordial under trouble. . . . The Christian 

Thomas Jefferson and Religion 1 63 

religion (the sweetest and sublimest in the World) labours through- 
out to infix in our hearts this great truth, that God is love. . . . While 
others, therefore, have been beating their heads, or embittering their 
hearts with disputes about forms of baptism and modes of faith, it 
has always, thank God, struck me as my great duty, constantly to 
think of this God is love; and he that walketh in love, walketh in 
God and God in Him." 

We have no actual statement from Jefferson's pen of his religious 
opinions, his hopes and doubts and fears, at this early period, except 
insofar as they are reflected in the excerpts he copied in his common- 
place book. In a letter he was later to write to his young nephew, 
Peter Carr, however, he discourses upon the religious crisis which 
inevitably comes to young people of intelligence and independence 
of spirit. In his gentle and wise words we see how forthrightly he 
himself met the situation when a young man, for the letter can be 
nothing but a reflection of his own experience. 

**Your reason is now mature enough,** he writes, **to examine this 
object [religion]. In the first place, divest yourself of all bias in favor 
of novelty and singularity of opinion. . . . On the other hand, shake 
off all the fears and servile prejudices, under which weak minds are 
servilely crouched. Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tri- 
bunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the 
existence of God; because if there be one, he must more approve of 
the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear. You will naturally 
examine first, the religion of your own country. Read the Bible, then, 
as you would read Livy or Tacitus. The facts which are within the 
ordinary course of nature, you will believe on the authority of the 
writer, as you do those of the same kind in Livy and Tacitus. The tes- 
timony of the writer weighs in their favor, in one scale, and their not 
being against the laws of nature, does not weigh against them. But 
those facts in the Bible which contradict the laws of nature, must be 
examined with more care, and under a variety of faces. Here you must 
recur to the pretensions of the writer to inspiration from God. Exam- 
ine upon what evidence his pretensions are founded and whether that 
evidence is so strong, as that its falsehood would be more improb- 
able than a change in the laws of Nature, in the case he relates. For 
example, in the book of Joshua, we are told, the sun stood still for 
several hours. Were we to read that fact in Livy or Tacitus, we 
should class it with their showers of blood, speaking of statues, beasts. 


etc. But if is said, that the writer of that book was inspired. Examine, 
therefore, candidly, what evidence there is of having been inspired. 
The pretension is entitled to your inquiry, because millions believe 
it On the other hand, you are astronomer enough to know how con- 
trary it is to the law of nature that a body revolving on its axis, as 
the earth does, should have stopped, should not, by that sudden 
stoppage, have prostrated animals, trees, buildings, and should after 
a certain time have resumed its revolution, and that without a second 
general prostration. Is this arrest of the earth's motion, or the evi- 
dence which affirms it, most within the law of probabilities? 

**You will next read the New Testament. It is the history of a per- 
sonage called Jesus. Keep in your eye the opposite pretensions: 1, 
of those who say he was begotten by God, born of a virgin, suspended 
and reversed the laws of nature at will, and ascended bodily into 
heaven; and 2, of those who say he was a man of illegitimate birth, 
of a benevolent heart, enthusiastic mind, who set out without pre- 
tensions of divinity, ended in believing them, and was punished capi- 
tally for sedition, by being gibbeted according to the Roman law, 
which punished the first commission of that offence by whipping, 
and the second by exile, or death in furea. . . . These questions are 
examined in the books I have mentioned, under the head of Religion, 
and several others. They will assist you in your inquiries; but keep 
your reason firmly on the watch in reading them all. Do not be fright- 
ened from this inquiry by any fear of its consequences. If it ends in a 
belief that there is no God, you will find incitements to virtue in the 
comfort and pleasantness you feel in its exercise, and the love of 
others which it will procure you. If you find reason to believe there 
is a God, a consciousness that you are acting under his eye, and that 
he approves you, will be a vast additional incitement; if that there 
be a future state, the hope of a happy existence in that increases the 
appetite to deserve it; if that Jesus was also a God, you will be com- 
forted by a belief of his aid and love. In fine, I repeat, you must lay 
aside all prejudices on both sides, and neither believe nor reject any- 
thing, because any other persons, or descriptions of persons, have 
rejected or believed it. Your own reason is the only oracle given you 
by heaven, and you are answerable, not for the Tightness, but up- 
rightness of the decision. . . .** 

These brave words express Jefferson's independence of spirit and 
indifference to cant as completely as anything he ever wrote. It may 

Thomas Jefferson and Religion 165 

be charged, as it often was and has been, that he denied many of the 
articles of faith that distinguish the Christian religion as ordinarily 
taught and observed. Indeed, in the heat of the presidential elections 
of 1SOO, which were distinguished for their display of acrimony and 
vilification, his religious beliefs, or supposed lack of them, became a 
political issue. It was the major topic in the many pamphlets pub- 
lished at that time. The answer to these charges is best found in his 
own words. "I have a view of the subject/ 7 he wrote Dr. Benjamin 
Rush of Philadelphia at this period, "which ought to displease neither 
the rational Christian nor Deist, and would reconcile many to a char- 
acter they have too hastily rejected. I do not know that it would 
reconcile the genus irritabile vatum who are all in arms against me. 
Their hostility is on too interesting ground to be softened." What 
this genus could not forgive Jefferson was his passion to shake off, 
as he said, "all the fears and servile prejudices," and "fix reason firmly 
in her seat." What was even more unforgivable was that, essentially, 
he was a religious revolutionist, that he was "a preacher of an Ameri- 
can religion, of certain ideas which were not only destroying feuda- 
lism and monarchism, but were destined also to destroy the power 
of all mere priesthoods and of the creeds that had been inherited.'* 
Thus, in writing Horatio Spafford, he declared that "in every country 
and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. . . . They 
have perverted the purest religion ever preached to man into mys- 
tery and jargon, unintelligible to all mankind." 

Religion was thus a problem that occupied Jefferson's thoughts 
throughout his life. We see this reflected not only in early entries in 
his commonplace book, but in his correspondence over a long period 
of years, culminating in a constant interchange of letters on the sub- 
ject with John Adams and others during the last decade. In a letter to 
Dr. Rush, while President, he speaks of "the delightful conversations" 
on the subject of the Christian religion they had in the evenings of 
1798-99, when he was in Philadelphia. With this letter he enclosed a 
"Syllabus of the Estimate of the Doctrine of Jesus, compared with 
those of others," which is remarkable for the lucidity of its analysis 
of the figure that was Jesus Christ and of the historical development 
of the faith He inaugurated. Jefferson states that his views "are the 
result of a life of inquiry and reflection, and very different from that 
anti-Christian system imputed to me by those who know nothing of 
my opinions. To the corruption of Christianity I am, indeed, opposed; 


but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian, in 
the only sense He wished anyone to be; sincerely attached to His 
doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to Himself every 
human excellence; and believing that He never claimed any other."* 
On another occasion he expressed similar sentiments in writing to 
William Short. "The greatest of all the reformers of the depraved 
religion of His own country , was Jesus of Nazareth. Abstracting what 
is really His from the rubbish in which it is buried, easily distin- 
guished by its lustre from the dross of His biographers, and as sep- 
arable from that as the diamond from the dunghill, we have the out- 
lines of a system of the most sublime morality which has ever fallen 
from the lips of man." 

In a letter written June 25, 1819 to Ezra Stiles, the eminent theo- 
logian and President of Yale College, with whom he had corre- 
sponded some thirty-five years, Jefferson gave a final expression to 
his faiththe fruit of a long life of benevolence and contemplation. 
"You say you are a Calvinist," he writes. "I am not. I am of a sect by 
myself, as far as I know. I am not a Jew, and therefore do not adopt 
their theology, which supposes the God of infinite justice to punish 
the sins of the fathers upon their children, unto the third and fourth 
generation; and the benevolent and sublime Reformer of that religion 
has told us only that God is good and perfect, but has not defined 
Him. I am, therefore, of His theology, believing that we have neither 
words nor ideas adequate to that definition. And if we could all, 
after this example, leave the subject as undefinable, we should all be 
of one sect, doers of good and eschewers of evil. No doctrines of His 
lead to schism/' 

Although Jefferson, as he said, rarely permitted himself to speak 
about religion and "never but in a reasonable society/' any more than 
he would write on it "should as soon as think of writing for the 
reformation of Bedlam," he observed the result of his reflections on 
these topics was ultimately to be embodied in what has come to 
be known as the "Jefferson Bible." While he was President, "after 
getting through the evening task of reading the letters and papers of 
the day," he made certain extracts from the Bible which he called 
"the Philosophy of Jesus." It is a "paradigma of His doctrines, made 
by cutting the texts out of the book, and arranging them on the pages 
of a blank book, in a certain order of time or subject. A more beautiful 
or precious morsel of ethics I have never seen; it is a document in 

Thomas Jefferson and Religion 167 

proof that I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doc- 
trines of Jesus, very different from the Platonists, who call me infidel 
and themselves Christians and preachers of the Gospel, while they 
draw all their characteristic dogmas from what its Author never said 
nor saw. They have compounded from the heathen mysteries a system 
beyond the comprehension of man, of which the great Reformer of 
the vicious ethics and deism of the Jews, were He to return to earth, 
would not recognize one feature/* 

The work of arranging this "precious morsel of ethics" occupied 
Jefferson "two or three nights only/* as he tells us. It was his ambition 
to add to the English text "Greek, Latin and French texts in columns 
side by side." This he finally accomplished some time between Janu- 
ary 1816, when he wrote the letter just quoted, and his last years. A 
handsome volume, bound in red leather with gold tooling, survives. 
Inscribed on the flyleaf, in the trembling hand of Jefferson's late 
years, are the words, "The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, 
Extracted textually, from the Gospels in Greek, Latin, French & 
English.** Family tradition has it that this was the volume he read last 
each night, carrying out his own recommendation to others: "I never 
go to bed without an hour, or a half hour's previous reading of some- 
thing moral, whereon to ruminate in the intervals of sleep." 


Perhaps no genius America has produced not even the venerable 
Benjamin Franklin united such diversified gifts or displayed such 
versatility of talent as Thomas Jefferson, Accordingly, there has been 
no lack of literature treating various phases of Jefferson's activity. 
Many pages have been written of Jefferson as a statesman, as a politi- 
cal philosopher, as a party leader, as a diplomat, as a legislator, as a 
lawyer, as a man of letters, as student of languages and natural sci- 
ence, as an architect and designer of landscapes and gardens, as a 
family man, as a friend of the French, as a citizen of the world, and 
as a patron of education and religion. But no* one has seen fit to 
present a comprehensive' picture of Jefferson as a traveler. Yet this 
interesting aspect of Jefferson's lif e is well worthy of attention. 

To be sure, many a modern globe-trotter would find nothing ex- 
traordinary in the voyages of Jefferson. It has been computed that 
the time he spent en route amounted to a year of his life. He visited 
no remote regions of the earth. Though one of the first to preach 
Pan-Americanism and the Monroe Doctrine, he was never in South 
America. Nor did he ever set foot in Spain, although by the purchase 
of Louisiana, formerly belonging to that country, he acquired for the 
United States a vast "empire for liberty." While in Italy he did not 
visit Rome, Florence, Venice, or Naples; Berlin, Vienna, and Buda- 
pest he never saw. Scarcely half a dozen European countries and 
twice as many states along the Atlantic seaboard comprised the terri- 
tory Thomas Jefferson surveyed as a tourist. 

From Thomas Jefferson, American Tourist: Being an Account of His Journeys 
in the United States of America, England, France, Italy, the Low Countries, and 
Germany, by Edward Dumbauld. Copyright 1946 by the University of Oklahoma 
Press. Reprinted by permission. 


Thomas Jeferson as a Traveler 189 

George Washington traveled more extensively in America than 
Jefferson. Only the Eastern states were familiar ground to the master 
of Monticello, and late in life he advised a prospective pioneer: "You 
could not have applied for counsel to one less personally acquainted 
with the Western country than myself, having never been 50 miles 
westward of my own house/' But for that matter few of Washington's 
contemporaries could equal his wide knowledge of America, Un- 
doubtedly his travels played a significant part in the development of 
that comprehensive patriotism which so eminently qualified him for 
national leadership. Benefits of the same kind came to Jefferson. The 
long, slow journeys by coach and on horseback gave him an intimate 
knowledge of his country and the needs of its people. 

Indeed, curiosity and pleasure were not the motives impelling 
Jefferson to travel. The illustrious Virginian boasted of having de- 
voted three score years and one of his life, uninterruptedly, to the 
service of his country, and his journeys were usually undertaken for 
the purpose of transacting public business. 

Born on April 13, 1743, at Shadwell, in what is now Albemarle 
County, Virginia, Jefferson attended college at Williamsburg. "When 
Jefferson started for William and Mary College in 1760, on horse- 
back, a five days* ride, he had never been farther than twenty miles 
from home, and had never seen a town of more than twenty houses, 
and his acquaintance was limited to his school-fellows and the fam- 
ilies of farmers around Shadwell. Yet within a few months we find 
this awkward youth of seventeen the favored and frequent compan- 
ion of Francis Fauquier, the most elegant and accomplished gentle- 
man Virginia had ever seen, Doctor William Small, the most learned 
man in the Colony, and George Wythe, the leader of its bar." (Wil- 
liam E. Curtis, The True Thomas Jefferson, 68). Studying law under 
Wythe's mentorship, Jefferson came to the bar in 1767. 

In May of the previous year he had obtained his first glimpse of 
the world beyond Virginia. In order to be inoculated for smallpox 
by the celebrated Dr. Shippen of Philadelphia, he had visited that 
city and then had gone on to New York. 

In 1769 Jefferson was elected for his first term as a legislator, but 
had served only five days when the royal governor dissolved the 
House of Burgesses. However, he remained a member of that body 
until 1775, when it ceased to function. He attended the second Vir- 
ginia Convention at Richmond in 1775; the preceding year he had 


set out for the first Virginia Convention at Williamsburg, but was 
taken ill of dysentery on the road and forced to be absent However, 
he forwarded Ms Summary View of the Rights of British America 
for perusal by the members. 

This clear and forceful statement, shortly afterwards published as 
a pamphlet, was a prelude to the Declaration of Independence. It 
enumerated in striking fashion the unlawful acts chargeable to the 
British monarch, and inquired; "But can his majesty thus put down 
all law under his feet? Can he erect a power superior to that which 
erected himself? ... We know, and will therefore say, that kings are 
the servants, not the proprietors of the people. . . . The God who 
gave us life gave us liberty " 

In 1775 Jefferson was elected as a Virginia delegate to the Con- 
tinental Congress, and made two trips to Philadelphia to attend 
meetings of that body. The following year he was again in Philadel- 
phia and won lasting renown as author of the Declaration of Indepen- 
dence. In the fall of 1776 he left Congress and returned to Virginia, 
where he entered the House of Delegates and initiated his program 
of law reform. His service in the legislature continued until his elec- 
tion as governor in 1779. 

Succeeding Patrick Henry, Jefferson was the second governor of 
Virginia as an independent commonwealth, after its liberation from 
English rule. While he was in office, the Old Dominion was invaded 
by the British Army. The task of resisting and eluding the enemy 
obliged him to spend many hours on horseback. That by experience 
and study he had acquired a comprehensive knowledge of his native 
state was manifested in Jefferson's Nates on Virginia, written shortly 
after he retired as governor. 

This work was originally prepared for the information of Barbe- 
Marbois, French consul in Philadelphia; its publication in Europe 
several years later won for its author considerable reputation as a 
man of learning. In accordance with the habits of industry and pre- 
cision acquired in Wythe's office, it was Jefferson's practice, in con- 
versation with persons of any station in life, to discuss the topic most 
familiar to those with whom he talked and to reduce to writing any 
information thus obtained which he thought might later on prove 
useful. Not only did he prepare the Nates on Virginia from such mem- 
oranda, but when traveling in Europe he similarly recorded Ms ob- 

Thomas Jefferson as a Traveler 171 

After the death of his wife, in 1782, when for the third time Con- 
gress chose him to undertake a diplomatic mission abroad, Jefferson 
accepted the appointment. He spent several months in Philadelphia 
and Baltimore attempting to find a vessel to take him across the At- 
lantic. But when news came that the peace negotiations terminating 
the Revolutionary War were already so far advanced that his atten- 
dance would not be required, Jefferson returned home. 

Little over a month later he was re-elected to Congress. At Prince- 
ton, New Jersey, on November 4, 1783, he took his seat in that body, 
which adjourned the same day to reconvene at Annapolis. In 1784, 
Jefferson was appointed as an envoy to act with John Adams and 
Benjamin Franklin in negotiating treaties of commerce with foreign 
nations. Leaving Annapolis on May 11, he made a point of informing 
himself about the commerce of the states through which he passed 
on his way to embark for France. He sailed from Boston on July 5, 
1784, and reached Paris a month and a day later. 

With him went his daughter Martha, not yet twelve. He left his 
younger children, Mary, aged six, and Lucy, two, in the care of their 
maternal aunt, Mrs. Eppes. The youngest died shortly thereafter, and 
in the summer of 1787 Mary joined her father and elder sister in Paris. 

In 1785, Jefferson succeeded Franklin as minister plenipotentiary 
to the French court. While stationed in Paris, he made three note- 
worthy trips. In 1786 he joined Adams in England in order to partici- 
pate in diplomatic negotiations. In 1787 he made a tour of southern 
France and northern Italy. In 1788 he hastened to The Hague to find 
Adams and conclude arrangements for a loan from the Dutch bank- 
ers at Amsterdam who financed the struggling American govern- 
ment. From Holland he returned to Paris by way of Germany. 

Jefferson remained abroad until 1789. In that year he became secre- 
tary of state in the cabinet of George Washington. From March to 
September, 1790, he was in New York, where the seat of the new 
government was first located. In August he accompanied President 
Washington on a brief visit to Rhode Island. In November he arrived 
in Philadelphia, then the temporary capital of the nation. With 
James Madison he made a trip through New England during the 
summer of 1791. 

On December 31, 1793, Jefferson resigned as secretary of state, 
but on March 4, 1797, was sworn in as vice president of the United 
States. In 1800 the pastoral city of Washington became the capital of 


the United States. The following year Jefferson was inaugurated as 
president. At the end of his second term, In 1809, he retired to Monti- 
cello, where he passed the remainder of his days and died on the 
Fourth of July, 1S28. 

Jefferson constantly combined business with sightseeing. On his 
first trip to Philadelphia to be vaccinated, he went on to New York. 
Traveling through New England with Madison, he found time to 
report to President Washington about conditions along the Canadian 
border. When he had settled the affairs which brought him posthaste 
to Holland from Paris, he returned leisurely by the round-about 
route through Germany, Called to London, he proceeded to make a 
methodical tour of the countryside, with Whately's book on garden- 
ing in his hand. When, after an injury to his wrist, he was advised by 
his physician to try the effect of mineral waters as a remedy, he chose 
those of Aix-en-Provence in preference to others, because from that 
place he could commence a tour of the French seaports concerned in 
commerce with America. From Aix he wrote to his daughter Martha; 
"My Journey hitherto has been a very pleasing one. It was undertaken 
with, the hope that the mineral waters of this place might restore 
strength to my wrist. Other considerations also concurredinstruc- 
tion, amusement, and abstraction from business, of which I had too 
much at Paris/' Indeed, the characteristic many-sidedness of the 
man, by his enemies called duplicity, revealed itself in the adroit 
management of Jefferson the tourist no less than in the skillful 
maneuvers of Jefferson the political leader. 

Doubtless the dangers and discomforts which beset the wayfarer 
in those days were sufficient to discourage Jefferson from undertak- 
ing any unnecessary travel. To be sure, highway robbery was all but 
unknown in America, if Jefferson's reply to a Frenchman submitting 
a scheme for suppressing that evil is to be believed. In France travel- 
ers went armed; Jefferson's passport authorized him to carry the 
usual weapons. Even in the United States a gun might be helpful in 
protecting a stranger from indignities. 

But the roads, though not infested by brigands, were ill defined 
and often impassable. On the main thoroughfare between Philadel- 
phia and Baltimore the ruts and gullies were so deep that, in order to 
keep the stage coach from upsetting, the passengers were obliged to 
lean to the right or left in unison at the driver's direction. Often they 
had to descend and walk in the mud, occasionally helping to push 

Thomas Jefferson as a Traveler 178 

the coach when the horses* efforts were not sufficient. When progress 
became impossible, a new roadway was opened by felling trees. In 
some places there were a dozen such routes to the same spot, all full 
of stumps., rocks, and trees. 

Near the close of the Revolution, the French traveler de Chastellux 
got lost in the woods while on the road to Monticello to visit Jeffer- 
son. In 1800, Mrs. John Adams met with the same predicament on 
her way from Baltimore to the new capital at Washington, wander- 
ing aimlessly through forest land for two hours until set aright by 
directions from a straggling black. Jefferson himself seems to have 
encountered similar difficulty while traveling to Philadelphia in 1775 
to attend the Continental Congress. His account book shows that 
more than once he was obliged to employ guides. 

In Europe the condition of the highways was hardly superior, 
though their location was not so uncertain. Indeed, entries in Jeffer- 
son's account book of sums paid for repairs to carriage or harness 
appear oftener during his journeys abroad than at home. In 1796 he 
informed Madison: "The roads of America are the best in the world 
except those of France and England." 

About to return from Amsterdam to the French capital, Jefferson 
wrote to William Short, his eleve and secretary at Paris: "What route 
I shall take will depend on information not yet received relative to 
the roads, and partly too on the weather's becoming milder than it 
now is." Jefferson finally determined to follow the Rhine as far as 
Strasbourg if the roads would permit, but to turn toward Paris when- 
ever they became impassable. A letter to Short from Frankfort-on- 
the-Main narrates the vicissitudes of the trip: "I arrived here on the 
6th. inst, having been overtaken at Cleves by the commencement of 
a storm of rain, hail & snow which lasted to this place, with intermis- 
sions now and then. The roads however continued good to Bonne, 
there beginning to be clayey & to be penetrated with the wet. They 
became worse than imagination can paint for about 100 miles which 
brought me to the neighborhood of this place where the chaussee 
began." The heavy road tax Jefferson "paid cheerfully, however, 
through the territory of Frankfort and thence up the Rhine, because 
fine gravelled roads are kept up; but through the Prussian, and other 
parts of the road below Frankfort, the roads are only as made by 
carriages, there not appearing to have been ever a day's work em- 
ployed on them." 


la his tour of Jefferson had also been troubled by bad 

A from Lyons informed Short: "So far all is well No 

complaints; except against die weather-maker who lias pelted me 
with rain, hail & snow, almost from the moment o my departure to 
my arrival here." Two weeks later, at Alven-Provence, Jefferson again 
complained of the constant storm of wind, hail snow, and rain tiaat 
pursued him. To cross the Alps it was necessary to travel ninety-tiiree 
on mules, "as the snows are not yet enough melted to admit 
carriages to pass. I leave mine here, therefore, preparing to return 
by water from Genoa/* Writing to his daughter Martha, he described 
the hardships of mountain and sea travel: "From Genoa to Aix was 
verv fatiguing the first two days having been at sea, and mortally 
sick two more clambering tide cliffs of the Appenines, sometimes on 
foot, sometimes on a mule, according as the path was more or less 
difficult-and two others travelling through the night as well as day 
without sleep, I am not yet rested, and shall therefore shortly give 
you rest by closing my letter." 

Jefferson was extremely susceptible to cold. *1 have often won- 
dered/' lie declared, "that any human being should live in a cold 
country who can find room in a warm one. I have no doubt but that 
cold is the source of more sufferance to all animal nature than hunger, 
thirst sickness, and all the other pains of life and of death itself put 
together. I live in a temperate climate, and under circumstances 
which do not expose me often to cold. Yet when I recollect on one 
Band all the sufferings I have had from cold, and on the other all 
other pains, the former preponderate greatly. What then must be the 
sum of that evil if we take in the vast proportion of men who are 
obliged to be out in all weather, by land and sea/* Sojourning in 
southern France he exclaimed: "I am now in the land of corn, vines, 
oil, & sunshine. What more can man ask of heaven? If I should happen 
to die in Paris I will beg of you to send me here, and have me exposed 
to the sun. I am sure it will bring me to life again." He wondered 
why anyone possessing sufficient means to live in that pleasant region 
should remain in Paris, for though "money will carry to Paris most of 
the good things" of that section, "it can not carry thither its sunshine, 
nor procure any equivalent for it" 

In October, 1791, Jefferson and Washington had to push on 
"through five days of North East storuT in order to reach Philadel- 
phia before the opening of Congress, which took place a week earlier 

Thomas Jefferson as a Traveler 175 

than anticipated. Fortunately, Mrs. Washington had taken possession 
of Jefferson's young daughter, Mary, at Mount Venion and restored 
her to her father only after their arrival Another peril enlivened the 
earlier portion of the trip. "The first part of our journey was pleasant, 
except some hair-breadth escapes by our new horse occasioned in 
going down hill the first day or so, after which he behaved better, 
and came through the journey preserving the fierceness of his spirit 
to the last/' 

On his trip to New York in 1766 Jefferson's horse ran away with 
him twice, and he was nearly drowned in fording one of the twelve 
rivers between Monticello and his destination. Between Monticello 
and Washington, Jefferson wrote to his attorney general in 1801, "of 
eight rivers . . . five have neither bridges nor boats. When the one on 
which I Hve is fordable it will be a signal that the others are. This 
may be to-day, and in that case if it has ceased to rain, I shall set out 
and be with you on the fourth day." Five days later, Jefferson had 
arrived at Washington and was sending word to Madison about the 
condition of the roads. There was a stretch of two miles, he thought, 
which a carriage could not safely traverse. He had passed a wagon 
stuck in the mud and was of the opinion that no four-wheeled vehicle 
could have gotten through that spot without suffering the same fate. 
While in Philadelphia as head of the Department of State, he wrote 
on one occasion to a friend living at Stenton, on the outskirts of the 
city: "Th: Jefferson presents his compliments to Dr. Logan, and is 
sorry that a great mass of business just come on him will prevent him 
the pleasure of waiting on him tomorrow. The hope of dryer roads is 
some consolation for postponing the visit awhile." 

In Virginia the highways were execrable. The best extended from 
Williamsburg to Richmond, a distance of sixty-three miles, which 
could be covered in two days. The last seventeen miles on the way 
from Philadelphia to Monticello were so hilly that when coming 
home in 1792, Jefferson feared that this bad stretch of road would 
injure his horses more than all the rest of the trip. Accordingly, he 
directed that plow or wagon horses should meet him to undertake 
the final stage of his journey. Coaches were rarely seen in Virginia; 
traveling was almost exclusively by horseback. At the time the Con- 
stitution was ratified, there were thousands of respectable men in 
the state who had never seen any other four-wheeled vehicle than a 
wagon, and there were thousands who had never even seen a wagon. 


to in 1766, Jefferson rode In a one-torse 

IB 17T5 he traveled In a phaeton, with two spare torses. Later 

on, when he had to make regular and frequent trips from Ms country 

to the seat of government, it was his practice to travel by the 

stage In bad weather aed In his own carriage when practicable. 

Some of Jefferson's stopping places on his way between MontteeEo 

and the seat of government are Identified by markers erected by the 

Commission of Maryland. These include Spurrier s Tavern 

-Spun-ears" by Jefferson, who visited it frequently, as did 

George Washington), Van Horn's Tavern, Rhodes Tavern, and the 

Red Lion Tavern. Rodger s Tavern, east of the Susquehanna River, 

is still standing. 

In March, 1790, when he had come to New York to take up Ms 
duties as secretary 7 of state, Jefferson wrote to Ms son-in-law : "I ar- 
rived here on the 21st. instant, after as laborious a journey, of a fort- 
from Richmond, as I ever went through; resting only one day 
at Alexandria and another at Baltimore. I found my carriage and 
horses at Alexandria; but a snow of eighteen inches deep falling the 
same night, I saw the impossibility of getting on in my own carriage; 
so left it there, to "be sent to me by water, and had my horses led on 
to this place, taking my passage in the stage, though relieving myself 
a little sometimes by mounting my horse. The roads, through the 
whole way, were so bad that we could never go more than three miles 
an hoar, sometimes not more than two, and in the night but one." 

Jefferson could have gone faster on foot. In a curious memorandum 
made while in France, he records his rate of walking. "I walk a French 
mile in ITS minutes. A French mile is 1.21 or H English miles. I 
walk then at the rate of 4 3/20 miles or 4 miles 264 yards an hour/' 
Noting further that he paces off a French mile in 1254 steps, "walk- 
ing moderately in the summer," he reckons that an English mile 
would require 2066K steps, which "the brisk walk o winter' would 
reduce to 1735, a difference of 331 steps. 

A week to ten days usually sufficed Jefferson for the trip from 
M onticello to Philadelphia. From the Quaker City to New York was 
a two days' journey. Annapolis was four days distant from Philadel- 
phia. The same interval separated Moaticello from Washington. 
Traveling in leisurely fashion, Jefferson spent almost a fortnight on 
the road between New York and Boston; although the highway be- 

Thomas Jefferson as a Traveler 177 

tvveen those cities was considered the best in the country and was 
usually covered in a week. 

Travel was not only laborious but expensive as well. In the winter 
of 1793 Congress met in Germantown. The city of Philadelphia was 
then suffering the ravages of yellow fever. Leaving Monticeflo on 
October 25 Jefferson rode on horseback to Fredericksburg. From 
that place his servants, James and Bob, returned with the horses, 
while their master went on to Baltimore by public stage. There 
Jefferson joined President Washington, and the two were obliged 
to hire a private conveyance to bring them to their destination. On 
November 2, Jefferson wrote to his son-in-law: "After having experi- 
enced on my journey the extremes of heat, cold, dust & rain, I arrived 
here yesterday. I found at Baltimore that the stages run no further 
North, and being from that circumstance thrown into the hands of 
the harpies who prey upon travellers, was pretty well leeced to get 
here. I think from Fredericksburg here with a single servant cost me 
upwards of seventy dollars/ 7 From his meticulously kept account 
book it appears that the precise sum was $77.65. The same day 
Jefferson wrote warning Madison and Monroe to be on their guard 
against a similar fate. The usual charge for passengers on the stage 
was six cents a mile, and the distance from Monticeflo to Philadel- 
phia was two hundred and sixty miles. 

Experiences of the same sort had befallen Jefferson in Europe. He 
affirmed that Rousseau had wronged the inhabitants of a certain 
French city in singling them out as a people accustomed to victimize 
strangers, for the practice was common everywhere among the menial 
class of "hackneyed rascals" with whom a traveler is most frequently 
in contact. "I have not yet been to Montpelier, but I can pronounce 
that Rousseau has done it injury in ascribing to it the character of 
pillaging strangers, as if it was peculiar to that place. It is the char- 
acter of every place on the great roads along which many travellers 
pass. He should also have confined the character to postillions, voi- 
turiers, tavern keepers, waiters & workmen. The other descriptions of 
people are as good to strangers as any people I have ever met with. 7 * 

Tliis evil was not a purely French trait. When the advisability of 
locating the temporary seat of government at Princeton, New Jersey, 
was being considered, Jefferson commented on the the deficiency of 
accommodations there, "exposing ye attending members to the dan- 


ger of & extortions discouraging perhaps the fitest men 

undertaking the service & amounting to a prohibition of such 
as had from which they would not part." While attending 

the Continental Congress at Princeton, Madison complained to Jef- 
ferson: *I am obliged to write in a position that scarcely admits the 
use of anv of my limbs, Mr. Jones & myself being lodged in a room 
not 10 feet square and without a single accommodation for writing.* 
Jefferson's experience with the Princeton townsmen may have col- 
ored his impressions of the college there. Although the degree of 
LL.D. had been conferred on him by that institution in 1791, Jeffer- 
son did not refrain from declaring to an inquiring parent that: "As 
far as I am acquainted with the colleges and academies of the U. S., 
and I wifl say more especially of Princeton., which you name, I have 
found their method of instruction very superficial & imperfect, carry- 
ing their pupils over the ground like race horses to please their par- 
ents and draw custom to their school." 

An English traveler, who likewise considered "Princeton, a place 
more famous for its college than its learning," resolved to make the 
best of the notoriously deficient accommodations which American 
hostelries provided and not to grumble. But in Philadelphia he could 
not resist the superior attractions offered by the establishment of a 
French innkeeper. In a southern state, the same traveler consumed 
without complaint a dinner of cornmeal mush, without milk, or 
sugar, or even molasses. "Beshrew the Traveller,' 7 he exclaims, *who 
would let fall a reflection over the dinner I have made. Though plain, 
it was wholesome; and, instead of wishing it was better, I thanked 
God it was not worse." 

Another Englishman was compelled to dance by a group of wag- 
oners at a tavern, who wielded their whips when he hesitated to 
comply with their commands. Upon the arrival of his groom, the irate 
Briton, taking his guns from the saddlehorse, turned the tables on 
his tormentors. He was greatly complimented by the landlord in 
consequence of this feat. The Indian Queen, where Jefferson some- 
times stopped in Philadelphia, was on one occasion the scene of a 
robbery in which several Congressmen lost their linen and thirty 
thousand dollars' worth of securities. 

One journeying by water was not immune from molestation by 
"the harpies who prey upon travellers." Just before sailing from 
Cowes for America, Jefferson advised his bankers that his final draft 

Thomas Jefferson as a Traveler 179 

on them would be for a larger sum than had been anticipated, since 
he must go by a particular ship or lose passage that season. The terms 
which the shipowner exacted provided that the cost of passage for 
ship and ship's provisions should be 100 guineas; that the passenger 
should at his own expense furnish any fresh provisions, wines, and 
delicacies desired; and that he should forfeit 50 guineas for detention 
of the ship in case of his failure to reach Cowes during the three days 
the ship, was to wait there for him. 

Navigation, moreover, had its own drawbacks and perils. Favor- 
able winds were necessary. Jefferson's departure from Europe was 
delayed three weeks on this account. Certain times of the year were 
most propitious for passage. "By advice of those skilled in sea voi- 
ages" Jefferson chose the period between the autumnal equinox and 
winter for his departure. March and September, "the boisterous 
equinoctial months/* he regarded as the most disagreeable seasons 
to be passed at sea. 

Even coastwise sailing was apt to prove difficult While on his way 
to the seat of government to assume his duties as vice president, 
Jefferson wrote from Chestertown, Maryland, to his daughter: *1 
have got so far, my dear Martha, on my way to Philadelphia which 
place I shall not reach till the day after to-morrow. I have lost one 
day at Georgetown by the failure of the stages, and three days by 
having suffered myself to be persuaded at Baltimore to cross the bay 
& come by this route as quicker & pleasanter. After being forced 
back on the bay by bad weather in a first attempt to cross it, the sec- 
ond brought me over after a very rough passage, too late for the 
stage. So far I am well, tho* much fatigued." Likewise, adverse winds 
on Lake Champlain compelled Jefferson and Madison to turn back 
during the course of their tour through New England in 1791. 

Hostile sea power constituted another hazard to ocean travel. 
Jefferson's inability to get to Europe as envoy in the winter of 1782-83 
was due chiefly to the British blockade. Passage on a French ship, 
the Guadeloupe, was offered Jefferson; but after observing that "she 
sweats almost continually on the inside, in consequence of which her 
commander and several of the crew are now laid up with rheuma- 
tism," he concluded that it would not be right to jeopardize a ship 
belonging to a friendly nation by exposing it to the danger of falling 
into enemy hands. 

A danger not dissimilar existed in time of peace. The Barbary 


pirates were a menace to the ships of nations which had not pur- 
chased immunity by paying tribute. Those on board the captured 
vessels were made prisoners and held for ransom. The principal 
maritime powers of Europe England, France, Spain and the States- 
General of Holland submitted to these degrading conditions and 
bought off the pirates. Jefferson, while at the French court, sought to 
form a combination of the lesser maritime powers to protect their 
commerce by patrolling the Barbary coast with a fleet of a half-dozen 
frigates. Congress failed to furnish its quota of one frigate, however, 
and the plan fell through. It was not until Jefferson's administration 
as president that the pirates were subdued by the American Navy. 

When making arrangements for his younger daughter, Mary, to 
be brought to France, Jefferson believed it would be prudent to 
"confide my daughter only to a French or English vessel having a 
Mediterranean pass. This attention, though of little consequence in 
matters of merchandise, is of weight in the mind of a parent which 
sees even possibilities of capture beyond the reach of any estimate. 
If a peace be concluded with the Algerines in the mean time, you 
shall be among the first to hear it from myself. I pray you to believe it 
from nobody else, as far as respects the conveyance of my daughter 
to me." 

The anxious father likewise prescribed strict standards of sea- 
worthiness for the ship which was to carry his child: TE must now 
repeat my wish to have Polly sent to me next summer. This, however, 
must depend on the circumstance of a good vessel sailing from Vir- 
ginia in the months of April, May, June or July. I would not have her 
set out sooner or later on account of the equinoxes. The vessel 
should have performed one voyage at least, but not be more than four 
or five years old. We do not attend to this circumstance till we have 
been to sea, but there the consequence of it is felt. I think it would 
be found that all the vessels which are lost are either on their first 
voyage or after they are five years old; at least there are few excep- 
tions to this. ... I would rather live a year longer without her than 
have her trusted to any but a good ship and a summer passage." 

And then there was seasickness. Jefferson was nearly always a 
sufferer from this malady when traveling by water. At the time of his 
return to the United States from France, he was willing to pay 
twenty to thirty guineas more if the ship would carry him directly 

Thomas Jeferson as a Traveler 181 

from a French port and spare Mm the ordeal of crossing the English 

If the dangers and discomforts confronting the traveler by land or 
water were not sufficient to discourage Jefferson from voyages under- 
taken exclusively for pleasure or gratification of his curiosity, the 
tranquil felicities of domestic life at Monticeilo would have dis- 
suaded him. He never tired of contrasting the burdens of public 
office with the charms which he found in his family, his friends, his 
farms, and his books. 

The attractiveness of his own fireside increased with the passing 
years. As a young man he felt the wish to travel. In 1764, when he 
was a student at Wflliamsburg, he was unwilling to make a cate- 
gorical proposal of marriage to his youthful flame, Rebecca Bur- 
well, because he desired first to go abroad. "1 shall visit particularly 
England, Holland, France, Spain, Italy (where I would buy me a 
good fiddle) and Egypt," returning home by way of Canada, he 
wrote to his confidant, John Page. The young lady was not inclined 
to postpone matrimony for two or three years until Jefferson's return 
from Europe (although in fact two decades were to elapse before 
he set foot on foreign soil), and she promptly married Jacquelin 
Ambler. The bridegroom, it is said, unwittingly or unfeelingly asked 
Jefferson to be best man at the wedding. A daughter of the couple 
later became the wife of Jefferson's lifelong enemy, Chief Justice 
John Marshall. 

But although the thought of separation from Miss Burwell did not 
deter Jefferson from planning an extensive voyage, absence from 
home was far less endurable after the wedding ceremony of New 
Year's Day, 1772, when the comely widow, Martha Wayles Skelton, 
became mistress of Monticeilo. Twice Jefferson refused appoint- 
ment as a diplomatic envoy on account of the precarious condition of 
his wife's health. To Lafayette, who communicated the news of his 
appointment the second time and offered to be useful to him in 
France, Jefferson avowed: "I lose an opportunity, the only one I 
ever had, and perhaps ever shall have, of combining public service 
with private gratification, of seeing countries whose improvements in 
science, in arts, and in civilization, it has been my fortune to admire 
at a distance, but never to see." 

The attractions of Paris, when Jefferson at length was able to 


gratify Ms wish to go there, did not diminish his eagerness to hear the 
news of everything that happened "in the neighborhood of Monti- 
cello" or his "off ection for "my lazy & hospitable countrymen." He 
wistfully affirmed: "I often wish myself among them, as I am here 
burning the candle of life without present pleasure, or future object. 
A dozen or twenty years ago this scene would have amused me, but 
I am past the age for changing habits/* To a European friend he de- 
clared: "I am now of an age which does not easily accomodate itself 
to new manners and new modes of living; and I am savage enough to 
prefer the woods, the wilds, and the independence of Monticello, to 
all the brilliant pleasures of this gay capital." 

Even to sojourn in Philadelphia was painful. While attending the 
Continental Congress Jefferson exclaimed: "I have never received 
the script of a pen from any mortal in Virginia since I left it, nor been 
able by any inquiries I could make to hear of my family. . . . The 
suspense under which I am is too terrible to be endured. If anything 
has happened, for God's sake let me know it." In the midst of politi- 
cal quarrels which embittered personal relations and social inter- 
course in the Pennsylvania metropolis during the period preceding 
Jefferson's election to the presidency, he averred: "I envy those 
who stay at home enjoying the society of their friendly neighbors.** 
Philadelphia he found "a dreary scene; where envy, hatred, malice, 
revenge, and all the worst passions of men, are marshalled to make 
one another as miserable as possible." He fumed with "impatience 
to leave this place, and everything which can be disgusting, for 
Monticello and my dear family, comprising every thing which is 
pleasurable to me in this world." 

Toward the close of his administration as president, Jefferson 
awaited with eagerness "the day of retirement" to the pleasures of 
private life, although he was grateful to his constituents for their 
support and good will. "But I am tired of a life of contention, and 
of being the personal object for the hatred of every man, who hates 
the present state of things," he declared to his daughter Martha. "I 
long to be among you where I know nothing but love & delight, and 
where instead of being chained to a writing table I could be in- 
dulged as others are with the blessing of domestic society & pursuits 
of my own choice." 

"Nature intended me for the tranquil pursuits of science by ren- 
dering them my supreme delight," the statesman confessed at the 

Thomas Jefferson as a Traveler 183 

end of Ms political career. "The whole of my life has been a war with 
my natural taste, feelings & wishes. Domestic life & literary pursuits 
were my first & my latest inclination, circumstances and not my de- 
sires led me to the path I have trod. And Hke a bow tho long bent, 
which when unstrung flies back to its natural state, I resume with 
delight the character and pursuits for which nature designed me." 
To a friend abroad he declared: "I at length detach myself from 
public life which I never loved to retire to the bosom of my family, 
my friends, my farms and books, which I have always loved." 

An occasional letter from an old acquaintance, however, revived 
fond memories of other scenes and other days, particularly "recollec- 
tions of our charming coterie in Paris, 7 * and of the dauntless band of 
patriots at Philadelphia in that stirring era when American inde- 
pendence was declared. But in the midst of these delightful reveries 
was heard the mournful voice of Lafayette: "You remember our 
happy hours, and animated conversations at Chaville how far from 
us those times, and those of tEe venerable Hotel de la Rochefoucauld! 
And we who still number among the living, do we not chiefly belong 
to what is no more?" 


Thomas Jefferson was in his own eyes first and always a farmer. 

Between 1767 and his marriage in 1772, he successfully managed 
the farms [more than 2,000 acres in Albemarle County] left him by 
his pioneer father. Before his marriage, he more than doubled the 
acreage and maintained the farms as a successful business enterprise, 
yielding the rather substantial income for those days of about $2 ? 000 
a year. 

Colonial Virginia at this time depended largely on English markets 
for the sale of its agricultural products. In the 150 years since the 
New World was opened by colonization, tobacco had become the 
chief cash crop, and this, combined with corn, the staple food crop, 
had already taken heavy toll from much of the originally productive 
soil. Erosion and soil exhaustion followed rapidly in the wake of 
the pioneers, as sloping land was cleared of trees and planted con- 
tinuously to the same soil-depleting crops. 

Jefferson's own words describe the current system of land usage: 

The highlands, where I live, have been cultivated about sixty 
years. The culture was tobacco and Indian corn as long as they 
would bring enough to pay the labor. Then they were turned out. 
After four or five years rest they would bring good corn again, 
and in double that time perhaps good tobacco. Then they would 
be exhausted by a second series of tobacco and corn. (Letter to 
President Washington, 1793.) 

Under this endless crop sequence of tobacco and com, planted in 
rows that usually ran uphill and downhill, much of the virgin topsoil 
was lost. By Jefferson's time the original surface layer of soil had 
been washed off many Virginia hillside fields by the rains and carried 
down into the rivers, leaving raw subsoil exposed. 

Excerpts from Thomas Jefferson: Soil Conseroatioritst, by Hugh H. Bennett. 
Soil Conservation Service, United States Department of Agriculture. Washington, 


Thomas Jefferson, Soil Conservationist 185 

Jefferson's farm management [over long periods] necessarily was 

largely absentee. The actual operations were intrusted to the over- 
seers who supervised the plantations. Jefferson's holdings in 1794 
covered more than 10,000 acres since the property brought him by 
his wife about equalled his own. During the five years he was in 
Europe, however, Jefferson sent his overseers detailed instructions 
as to farm plans. He also forwarded seeds of European grasses, rice, 
olives, and other plants to be tested in different soils and climates in 
America. Moreover, he studied agricultural details of the European 
scene and, as time permitted, noted his findings and sent them home. 
Jefferson's return to M onticello was marked by disappointment. In 
May 1794 he wrote President Washington: 

... I find on a more minute examination of my lands than the 
short visits heretofore made to them permitted, that a ten years' 
abandonment of them to the ravages of overseers, has brought on 
them a degree of degradation far beyond what I had expected. . . . 
I am not yet satisfied that . . . much will be done this year toward 
rescuing my plantations from their wretched condition. Time, 
patience and perseverance must be the remedy. . . . 

Jefferson undertook to rebuild his depleted fields, and during the 
next few years he initiated an ambitious program of soil conservation. 

This first phase of his conservation activities emphasized chiefly 
development of a system of crop rotations, including legumes, the 
use of fertilizers, and the practice of deep plowing. "Horizontal 
ploughing," the principal cultural practice by which Jefferson's con- 
servation efforts are remembered today, is not mentioned in his agri- 
cultural records of this period. His approval of contouring as a meas- 
ure of erosion control came somewhat later. 

From 1794 to 1797, Jefferson maintained active contact with all 
operations on his several farms and strove earnestly to repair the 
damage inflicted by careless overseers. Almost daily his spare figure 
the lean straight form of the skilled horseman could be seen riding 
across the broad acres as he checked details of field arrangement, 
crop yields, food needs for the plantation population of almost 180 
slaves, and the production of Monticello's miniature factories, where 
nails, cloth, grist, and other essentials were produced for the upkeep 
of the self-sufficient community. 


During these years Jefferson exchanged agricultural information 
with and sought advice from the leading fanners of the day., includ- 
ing James Madison, George Washington, and John Taylor. 

He strongly advocated the use of red clover a good soil-conserva- 
tion plant. He recommended it as an important part of a crop rotation 
to offset the exhausting effects of such crops as wheat. It had, he 
believed, multiple benefits: it furnished an excellent cover crop, 
highly preferable to bare fallow or even "spontaneous herbages/' 
and it supplied good pasture at the same time. Moreover, he found 
that it would grow in fields "considerably harassed with corn." 

Jefferson was interested in other soil-improving plants as well, par- 
ticularly vetch. He experimented with various types of vetch to deter- 
mine their effectiveness for winter cover and in rotation. He said: "I 
think it important to separate my exhausting crops by alternations of 

Perhaps the most significant of all were Jefferson's recognition of 
the eroding effects of clean-tilled crops and his attempts to introduce 
substitute crops that would better protect his fields, which were 
mostly sloping and erodible. In June 1793, he wrote to President 
Washington: "Good husbandry with us consists in abandoning Indian 
corn and tobacco, tending small grain, some red clover following ?> 

Later, in December 1794, in a letter to John Taylor, he wrote: "The 
first step towards the recovery of our lands is to find substitutes for 
corn and bacon. I count on potatoes, clover, and sheep. The two 
former to feed every animal on the farm . . . and the latter to feed 
[the Negroes], diversified with rations of salted fish and molasses . . " 
This quotation notes the principal points in Jefferson's farm conser- 
vation program; his recognition of the dangers of row crops; his belief 
in soil-building and soil-holding legumes in the rotation; a plan for 
diversified farming; and his interest in animal husbandry, principally 
sheep, partly for the sake of manure for fertilizer. 

Jefferson understood that nature herself may gradually restore 
the fertility of the soil "in a long course of years," but because this 
natural process is so slow, he recommended manuring in addition 
to the use of rotations that included clover as a means of accomplish- 
ing "more in one than the atmosphere would require several years to 
do." He also publicized the experiments being carried on with plaster, 
or gypsum. 

In Jefferson's time, comparatively few colonial farmers were con- 

Thomas Jefferson, Soil Conservationist 187 

cemed with returning to the earth any of the vital elements with- 
drawn by cropping, or with crop rotations, fertilizers, and cultural 
methods. But Jefferson was concerned not only with current returns 
from the land but also with the effects of abusive farming on poster- 
ity. He acknowledged the prevailing circumstances in a letter to 
President Washington in 1793: **. . . we can buy an acre of new land 
cheaper than we can manure an old acre/' Nevertheless, he himself 
constantly looked for and tested ways of maintaining the soil's 

One of the most interesting items in his Farm Book in which for 
nearly 50 years he jotted down bits of farm data such as plans, yields, 
and techniques outlines an experiment on dung. He was not content 
merely to assume that animal manure would revitalize the soil and 
produce better crops; he planned tests to determine exactly how 
many cattle and how much time would be required to fertilize in 
this manner a given area of land and to measure its effectiveness by 
comparing the yield of wheat on the manured area with that from an 
equal area unmanured. 

In his tests of legumes and grasses, Jefferson tried out numerous 
species, including the better known red clover, peas, and vetches, 
striving always to arrive at the best adjustment between environment 
and plant. He sought good grasses to bind the soil against washing 
by rain, to control gullies, and to improve hard-used land. 

Jefferson^s original 7-year rotation, outlined in his letter to Taylor, 
was as follows: 

1. Wheat, followed the same year by turnips, to be fed on by the 

2. Corn and potatoes mixed, and in autumn the vetch to be used 
as fodder in the spring if wanted, or to be turned in as a 

3. Peas or potatoes, or both according to the quality of the fields. 

4. Rye and clover sown on it in the spring. Wheat may be sub- 
stituted here for rye. . . . 

5. Clover. 

6. Clover, and in autumn turn it in and sow the vetch. 

7. Turn in the vetch in the spring, then sow buckwheat and turn 
that in, having hurdled off the poorest spots for cowpenning 
[so these bad spots could be improved by the manure.] 


Jefferson's main objectives in this rotation seem evident. He must 
have been aiming at a sharp reduction of clean-tilled crops com only 
once in 7 years. Wheat, apparently, was to be depended on as "the 
only one which is to go to market to produce money"; clover and 
vetches were to be soil "amelioraters" and provide pasture. However, 
because o the drain on farm output by a large plantation population 
and constant numerous guests, Jefferson apparently was not able to 
put his plan fully into practice. A simplified and shorter rotation 
seems to have been the actual system of crop succession generally 

The plows of Jefferson's time were crude wooden implements. The 
design had never been standardized; each plow was the product of 
either a local artisan or the farmer himself. The average eighteenth- 
century plow penetrated the soil to only a slight depth, and for many 
years Jefferson sought some means whereby "deep ploughing" could 
be done. He had observed the bad effects of shallow plowing, which 
often merely loosened the topsoil so that it would wash away more 

Out of Jefferson's researches on this problem came his moldboard 
of 'least resistance." This moldboard for the plow, developed accord- 
ing to the principles of physics, made it possible to plow to a depth 
of about 6 inches. It was one of the first attempts to standardize agri- 
cultural machinery and was so designed that the moldboard could 
be duplicated by any farmer. 

Jefferson's moldboard for the plow has contributed, strangely 
enough, to both soil saving and soil wastage. On the positive side are 
its usefulness for contour ridging of erodible fields, for plowing out 
shallow open ditches, for broad ridging imperfectly drained flat 
lands, and for other uses. On the other side, this moldboard made it 
easier to tear up land indiscriminately. It contributed to "clean plow- 
ing," and we adopted this method far and wide, overlooking the fact 
that on some lands it is much better to maintain a vegetal covering. 

Jefferson's agricultural and soil-conserving interests followed him 
into the White House. White House dinner-table conversation is said 
to have been as likely to touch on some problem of cultivation at 
Monticello as on the fate of democracy in Napoleonic France. During 
these years, Jefferson's property was managed by his son-in-law, 
Thomas Mann Randolph, a "man of science, sense, virtue and com- 
petence." Randolph had introduced into this hilly Virginia country 

Thomas Jefferson, Soil Conservationist 189 

a new method of cultivation that was destined more than a hundred 
years later to make over the face of America. This method was ""hori- 
zontal ploughing/* which we know today as contouring. 

Jefferson for many years watched Randolph's efforts to prove the 
effectiveness of horizontal plowing in preventing erosion of sloping 
land. After he retired to Monticello permanently, he became an 
enthusiastic supporter of this method. In recounting to William Bur- 
well (1810) a violent storm in which 3 inches of rain fell in a single 
hour, he wrote: 

Every hollow of every hill presented a torrent which swept 
everything before it. 1 have never seen the fields so much in- 
jured. Mr. Randolph's farm is the only one which has not suf- 
fered; his horizontal furrows arrested the water at every step till 
it was absorbed, or at least had deposited the soil it had taken up. 

This conviction as to the value of contouring remained with Jeffer- 
son throughout the rest of his life, spent in agricultural pursuits at 
Monticello. In 1813 he wrote to Charles Peale: 

Our country is Billy and we have been in the habit of ploughing 
in straight rows whether up and down hill, in oblique lines, or 
however they lead; and our soil was all rapidly running into the 
rivers. We now plough horizontally, following the curvatures of 
the hills and hollows, on the dead level, however crooked the lines 
may be. Every furrow thus acts as a reservoir to receive and 
retain the waters, all of which go to the benefit of the growing 
plant, instead of running off into the streams. In a farm horizon- 
tally and deeply ploughed, scarcely an ounce of soil is now carried 
off from it. 

Contour cultivation also is definitely labor-saving, as Jefferson 
pointed out: "The horses draw much easier on the dead level, and it 
is in fact a conversion of hilly grounds into a plain." Moreover, Jeffer- 
son found it easy to mark out the contours: "To direct the plough 
horizontally, we take a rafter level ... A boy of thirteen or fourteen 
is able to work it round the hill, a still smaller one with a little hough 
marking the points traced by the feet of the level. The plough follows 
running through these marks." 


The best description of this practice is given in a letter to Tristain 
Dalton, written in May 1817: 

Our practice is ... to lay off guide lines conducted horizontally 
around the hill or valley from one end to the other of the field, 
and about 30 yards apart. The steps of the level on the ground 
are marked by a stroke of a hoe, and immediately followed by a 
plough. . . We generally level a field the year it is put into Indian 
corn laying it into beds 6 ft. wide, with a large water furrow 
between the beds, until all the fields have been 'once leveled. 
The intermediate furrows are run by the eye of the ploughman 
governed by these guide lines. . . 

Jefferson also had constructed an excellent bench terrace for the 
vegetable garden almost at the top of Monticello's steep slopes. The 
nearby orchard and vineyard sites have the appearance of land that 
has long been contoured. 

After 1809, when he retired from the Presidency, Jefferson was able 
to throw himself completely into agricultural and domestic affairs. 
His farming system is described in a letter to Jean Baptiste Say in 

Our culture is of wheat for market, and of maize, oats, peas, and 
clover, for the support of the farm. We reckon it a good distribu- 
tion to divide a farm into three fields, putting one into wheat, 
half a one into maize, the other half into oats or peas, and the 
third into clover, and to tend the fields successively in this rota- 
tion. Some woodland in addition, is always necessary . . . 

As compared with his proposed 7- year rotation of 1794, this system 
was simpler and shorter. For the rolling clay loam land of Monticello 
and vicinity, this plan of Jefferson's represents fairly good land use, 
especially under contour cultivation. That this plan was actually fol- 
lowed for several years seems substantiated by Jefferson's records. 
In his Farm Book, an entry for Monticello for 1809 reads as follows: 

... 3 fields of 60 acres each. 

1 for hah corn, half oats, peas or millet 

1 for wheat 60 acres 

1 for clover 60 acres 

and aim at a fourth for clover also as soon as we can. 

Thomas Jefferson, Soil Conservationist 191 

The entry for 1311 on the crop system used on his Lego farm is 
almost identical. 

Jefferson sought constantly for new crops adapted to his conditions 
of land and climate, and he instructed his overseer, Edmund Bacon, 
to conserve limber by "never cutting down a tree for firewood or any 
other purpose as long as one can be found ready cut down . . /* 

Jefferson's promotion of improved methods of farming went be- 
yond the confines of his own land. Through his amazingly voluminous 
correspondence, he publicized virtually every new and useful devel- 
opment in soil use and cultural practices. Jefferson's sponsorship of 
progressive conservation farming helped achieve an agricultural 
renaissance in the early part of the nineteenth century. 

The flow of letters dealing with agricultural needs and practices, 
including conservation, in this age of restricted communication and 
transportation, functioned somewhat like a journal and did much to 
stimulate and spread agricultural advancement both at home and 

Jefferson encouraged agricultural societies as a means of develop- 
ing and spreading good fanning techniques. Characteristic was his 
participation in the Albemarle Agricultural Society, founded in 1817. 
Composed of 30 leading landowners, with holdings in five counties, 
the society adopted a platform almost identical with that offered by 
Jefferson in 1811 in his "Scheme for a System of Agricultural Socie- 
ties." The following three items from his "Scheme" reflect his pre- 
occupation with soil conservation: 

4th. Rotation of crops, and the circumstances which should 
govern or vary them, according to the varieties of soil, climate, 
and markets, of our different counties. 

7th. Manures, plaster, green-dressings, fallows, and other 
means of ameliorating the soil. 

9th. A succinct report of the different practices of husbandry 
in the county, including the bad as well as the good, that those 
who follow the former may read and see their own condemna- 
tion in the same page which offers better examples for their 
adoption ... it would present every good practice which has 
occurred to the mind of any cultivator of the State for imitation, 
and every bad one for avoidance. 

Each member of the society was to report on his own agricultural 
practices and to provide information on these points: Rotation of 


crops, average crop yield, acreage cultivated, amount of land cleared 
annually, the proportion of worn-out land, quantity of manure car- 
ried out, and quantity of plaster used and with what effect. 

Recognizing that soil erosion could be conquered only through 
scientific treatment of the soil, Jefferson vigorously supported agri- 
cultural education and investigations at the university level. Agri- 
culture "is a science of the very first order,' 7 he wrote to David Wil- 
liams in 1803, urging the inclusion of agricultural techniques and 
experiments in college curricula; "It counts among its handmaids the 
most respectable sciences, such as Chemistry, Natural Philosophy, 
Mechanics, Mathematics generally, Natural History, Botany. In 
every College and University, a professorship of agriculture, and the 
class of its students, might be honored as the first." 


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'^'W 1 \ < / /( '' 

fJKAW.'fStf ,/,l" V,, 1 / ..'',> 

Jefferson at 62. 

Courtesy of the New-York Historical Society, New York City 


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Jefferson at 62. 

Courtesy of Mr. Ralph L Straus, New York City 



Among the founders of the Republic, who included other men of 
wide reading and high scientific attainments, Jefferson was unique in 
being also devoted to the arts as an amateur, as a collector, as a 
patron, and in architecture, as a gifted creative artist of far-reaching 

This interest went much beyond any mere formal rounding of 
general cultivation. When among the French, as Minister from the 
United States, he wrote: 

Were I to proceed to tell you how much I enjoy their archi- 
tecture, sculpture, painting, music, I should want words. . . . 
The last of them, particularly, is an enjoyment, the deprivation 
of which, with us, cannot be calculated. I am almost ready to say, 
it is the only thing which from my heart I envy them, and which, 
in spite of all the authority of the Decalogue, I do covet. 1 

While it was in Europe that Jefferson first had opportunity to in- 
dulge to the full his enjoyment of the arts, an interest in them had 
begun very early in his Mfe. This was the more remarkable since 
artistic stimuli and artistic opportunities were then so extremely 
meagre in America. This was especially true in the South, where the 
scattered plantations were not favorable to activities which flourish 
chiefly in towns. An effort to determine how Jefferson was able to 
form any adequate idea of the arts, as he very notably did, may be 
not without interest for the cultural history of America. 

It is hard to realize how very few and inadequate were works of 
any of the arts in the Colonies generally, and in Virginia, at the time 

A paper read April 23, 1943 before the American Philosophical Society in 
celebration of the Bicentennial of Thomas Jefferson. Published in the "Proceed- 
ings of the Society, Volume 87, Number 3. Reprinted by permission, with cor- 
rections by the author. 

1 To Charles Bellini, September 30, 1785 (Writings of Jefferson, Lipscomb 
ed., 4: 154, 1903). 



of Jefferson's youth. As late as 1781 he could write, in his Nates on 
Virginia, not unjustly of architecture there in its academic aspects: 
< *The first principles of the art are unknown, and there exists scarcely 
a model among us sufficiently chaste to give an idea of them." Of 
sculpture, the first work to come to Virginia was the marble statue 
of Lord Botetourt voted by the Colony in 1771, 2 executed by Richard 
Hayward in 1773, and set up in the capitol at Williamsburg. Of paint- 
ings we know almost none in Virginia at that time except portraits, 
the best of them being scarcely more important than those at West- 
over attributed to Kneller but actually by lesser hands. Painters work- 
ing in the colony were few and poor enough: John Wollaston, John 
Hesselius, John Durand. In 1768 was sent from London to Richard 
Henry Lee in Westmoreland the young Charles Willson Peale's 
heroic classical full-length of Pitt, but it is doubtful if Jefferson ever 
saw this ambitious and sophomoric work. It was only in 1774 that 
Peale first painted at Williamsburg. 

Meanwhile Jefferson had one opportunity in youth to see some- 
thing of what other colonies had to offer. In 1766 he came to Philadel- 
phia to be inoculated against the smallpox by Dr. John Morgan, to 
whom he brought a letter of introduction from John Page; he passed 
through Annapolis and pressed on to New York. The figure of Pitt 
and the equestrian statue of the King, ordered in that year by the 
Assembly of New York, were not received and set up until 1770. 
Philadelphia, more than any other Colonial town, already had a small 
group of amateurs and collectors, including the men who had lately 
joined to send the young Benjamin West to Italy. Judge William Allen 
had copies of several Italian works, including a Venus of Titian, the 
Concert of Giorgione, and a Holy Family of Correggio. 3 John Penn's 
collection., according to Henry Pelham, Copley's half-brother, was 
"very great and elegant/' 4 Former Governor James Hamilton had at 

2 One might expect Jefferson, then in the House of Burgesses, to have been 
on the committee regarding this, but he was not. Cf. Journals, 1770-1772: 138. 
We do not know that he was particularly a friend or admirer of Botetourt, as 
he had been of the preceding governor, Fauquier. 

* Copley to Henry Pelham, September 29, 1771 (Copky-Pelham Letters: 
163> 341, 1914). 

4 Henry Pelham to his mother, November 18, 1774 (ibid.: 272). For further 
evidences on Philadelphia collections, cf. C. and J. Bridenbaugh, Rebels and 
Gentleman: 213-215, 218, 1942. 

Thomas Jefferson and the Arts 195 

Bush Hill what passed for an original by Murillo, a Saint Ignatius 
taken from a Spanish ship, and copies by West; in his garden were 
"seven statues of fine Italian marble curiously wrought." As early as 
1761 John Morgan had paid tribute to both Allen and Hamilton, "from 
whom I have received so many favors," 5 and we cannot doubt that 
he introduced the brilliant and fashionable young Virginian into 
their society. 

It was doubtless to Morgan himself, however, that Jefferson owed 
his real initiation into the arts. M organ was born in 1735 and was 
thus but eight years Jefferson's senior. Besides studying in London, 
Edinburgh, and Paris, he had made the Grand Tour of Italy, 6 had 
followed James Byers' "Course of Antiquities," in Rome, had a library 
including works on art, architecture, and archaeology, and had 
brought back from Italy a notable collection of copies of old masters 
as well as of drawings and engravings of both paintings and architec- 
ture. He owned, for instance, Vignola's work on the orders of archi- 
tecture; he had been to Vicenza, and "visited several elegant palaces 
built by Palladio . . . and the Theatrum Olympicorum," of which 
he had "procured a pretty exact plate." We shall not be mistaken in 
supposing that, during Jefferson's weeks in Philadelphia, Morgan 
found in him a receptive disciple, that in the field of art Morgan's 
example was as fruitful for Jefferson as that of Wythe, Small, and 
Fauquier in other fields, and that Jefferson promised himself not to 
fall behind him in the adornment of his own future dwelling. 

Not until the year 1773 do we know definitely of any copies of old 
masters in Virginia. On March 4 of that year the painter Matthew 
Pratt, of Philadelphia, who, like Peale, had studied with West in 
London, advertised in the Virginia Gazette that he had brought with 
him to Williamsburg and was exhibiting and offering for sale "a small 
but very neat collection of paintings," six of these being after old 
masters. They included his own mediocre copy of West's copy of 
Correggio's "St. Jerome" ( that is, the Holy Family with Saint Jerome ) , 
another "Holy Family," and his copy of Guido's "Jupiter and 

5 The Bridenbaughs (ibid.: 215) call Morgan the "foremost of the Phila- 
delphia collectors/* and chronicle the visits of John Adams and others to him. 

6 Journal erf Dr. John Morgan -from, Rome to London, 1764, with a fragment 
of a Journal at Rome 1764, and a Biographical Sketch, 1907. This includes a list 
of articles collected by Dr. Morgan during his travels. 


Etuopa.** 7 By the 18th. Pratt was evidently leaving Williamsburg to 
paint near Richmond and ? later, at Hampton, but the pictures for a 
time remained visible near the Capitol. Jefferson's accounts show that 
he happened to be in Wflliamsburg for a week during this fortnight 
We cannot doubt that he ? who never failed to see any curiosity, im- 
proved the opportunity to visit the exhibition, but we shall see that 
the particular works shown cannot have made a favorable impression 
on him. He bought none, and did not add their subjects to his lists of 

It was in music that Jefferson first was able to indulge his tastes, 
through a serious mastery of the violin, which he had played since 
boyhood. In his earliest surviving pocket account books, which begin 
in 1767, we find frequent items for fiddlestrings. With Governor 
Fauquier, himself a musician, Jefferson formed one of a little group 
of amateurs who played often at the Palace, prior to Fauquier's death 
in 1768. Jefferson continued to study the violin with Alberti, a gifted 
virtuoso who had come to Williamsburg with some players, and to 
whom Jefferson's payments begin in 1769. Later Jefferson persuaded 
Alberti to come and live at Monticello, where he took lessons for sev- 
eral years. "I suppose, 7 ' Jefferson wrote, "that during at least a dozen 
years of my life, I played no less than three hours a day." 8 He lost no 
opportunity of acquiring fine instruments, one in May 1768, which 
would seem to be tie Cremona he still had when he died; another for 
which, "together witiht all his music composed for the violin," lie 
pledged a large sum to John Randolph in 1771, and whicli he ac- 
quired when Randolph went to England in 1775. These two, he said, 
"would fetch in London any price." Nicholas Trist, who married 
Jefferson^s granddaughter, quotes him as saying he had to lay aside 
his violin on the eve of the Revolution, 9 but we still find payments 
for fiddlestrings, as well as for a music stand, on his arrival in Paris, 
where in 1786 he bought a small violin, his third. Even after he had 
so seriously dislocated his right wrist in that year, indeed when hie 
was Secretary of State, 1789-93; he tad his fiddle bow mended, and 

7 W. Sawitzky, Matthew Pratt; 29 ff., 1942. These copies of Correggio and 
Guido survive and are there illustrated. 

8 Documents on Jefferson's early attainments in music are assembled by 
Marie Kimball, The Road to Glonj, 1943, here supplemented by later entries in 
his manuscript account books. A fuller discussion will be published by Carleton 
Sprague Smith and Hellen Bullock. 

9 EL S. Randall, Life of Jefferson 1: 131, 1858. 

Thomas Jefferson and the Arts 197 

on the eve of retirement laid in a good supply of strings. 10 In 1SOG lie 
was still buying music. 

His musical interests were not limited by the violin. In 1771, dur- 
ing his courtship of Martha Wayles, herself musically gifted, he 
ordered a clavichord from Hamburg, then wrote: "I have since seen 
a Forte-piano and am charmed with it. Send me this instrunient in- 
stead of the Clavichord." 11 Some keyed instrument he must always 
have. In Philadelphia in 1783 he bought a clavichord; in Paris he first 
hired a piano, then bought a harpsichord; in Philadelphia in 1792 he 
had a spinet; in 1800 he purchased a piano for 264. 12 Writing from 
Williamsburg to Paris in 1778, during a lull of the Revolution, he 
speaks of music as "the favorite passion of my soul" and makes his 
celebrated proposal to create a "domestic band of musicians" by im- 
porting workmen in various trades he ordinarily employed who could 
also "perform on the French horn, clarinet, or hautboy, and bassoon.** 
Consolation for his unsuccess in realizing this plan he found, while 
abroad, in frequent attendance at the far from amateurish Concerts 
Spirituels at the Tuileries. 

Very early he had sought, as Edward Randolph said, "to collect a 
library, not merely amassing a number of books, but distinguishing 
authors of merit and assembling them in subordination to every art 
and science.** His library catalogue, preserved in manuscript, lists 
both his books on music and the musical compositions which he 
owned. By differences of ink and handwriting 13 it permits us to rec- 
ognize which are the original entries for his earlier acquisitions and 
desiderata, down to his expected departure for Europe in 1782. 
Among the books then owned were Brenne/s Rudiments of Music, 
Dr. Burney's Present State of Music in Italy , and in Germany, and 
manuals of instruction for the violin, the harpsichord, and the Ger- 
man flute. There are two pages of titles under Music Vocal, with 
works ranging from Handel and Pergolesi, or PurcelTs Orpheus Bri- 
tannicus y to drinking songs, and two pages of Music Instrumental, 
beginning with Corellfs concertos and Vivaldi's concertos. Later 
Jefferson made a table of all his instrumental music by over a score 

10 Accounts, October 12 and December 24, 1793. 

11 Writings, Lipscomb e<L, 4: 231, 235, 1903. 

12 This would seem to be the one in a Hepplewhite case marked "Astor and 
Company/* which descended in his family and was ktely given back to Monti- 
cello by Laurence Gouverneur Hoes, 

is Cf. Fiske Kimball, Thomas Jefferson, Architect: 90-91, 1916. 


of authors, classified as sonatas, concertos, duets, and so forth, in- 
cluding also works later acquired, such as Haydn's 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 47th, 
and 48th sonatas, and his 51st and 52nd concertos. No later com- 
posers such as Mozart, not to speak of Beethoven, are listed. Consid- 
erable fragments of this great library of music are preserved (mostly 
deposited by the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation at the Alder- 
man Library of the University of Virginia). At Monticello are Jeffer- 
son's music stand for violin, and an ingenious four-sided music stand 
of his own design for playing quartettes. 

Jefferson early dreamed of a house and garden of his own making. 
At twenty-one, we know, he bought "James on Gardening, 7 * trans- 
lated from Leblond's manual of the French formal style of LeNotre. 
In the next year, with the poet Shenstone's collected works, hymning 
nature and wide mountain prospects, he acquired the plan and de- 
scription of the author's seat, The Leasowes, a famous example of 
the new English landscape garden. By 1767 he had determined to 
build on a site far more romantic than Shenstone's, on the summit of 
the little mountain rising above his birthplace, Shadwell, a site to 
which he then gave the name he was to make so famous, Monticello. 
Deep in books on architecture, of which he already owned a number, 
he gave his preference from the start to that of Palladio, with its 
appeal to the lawfulness of nature, to harmony of mathematical pro- 
portions. Making himself master of architectural drawing to a degree 
quite beyond the skill of any Colonial builders or amateurs down to 
this time, he designed a house with Palladian porticoes of an aca- 
demic correctness new in the southern Colonies. By a genial adapta- 
tion to his mountain site of Palladio's schemes of colonnaded service 
wings, which he depressed below terraces, he gave his house an unin- 
terrupted sweep of the superb panorama of plain, of valley, and of 
mountain range. 

Pope asks: 

"Who then shall grace, or who improve the soil?" 
and answers: 

"Who plants like Bathurst, or who builds like Boyle." 

Jefferson, like Boyle-the architect Earl of Burlington before him, 
was building in Palladian style; he early undertook ambitious plant- 

Thomas Jefferson and the Arts 199 

ing also. "It has always been my passion,** lie wrote years later to the 
Comtesse de Tesse. 14 His ideas for it, in the landscape style, he must 
already have acquired with Shenstone's works in 1765. Shenstone's 
ferine ornee gave him an example of the method inaugurated by 
William Kent, when as Walpole wrote he leaped the fence and 
saw that al nature was a garden." Jefferson was the first American to 
hold this belief, and to act on it. 

Already Ms architectural skill was being laid under contribution by 
others: as in a design for his friend George Wythe, and one for an 
enlargement of the building of William and Mary College prepared 
in 1771-72 at Governor Dunmore's request, begun, and only sus- 
pended as Revolution neared. Here Jefferson made a plan with a 
great arcaded court reminiscent of the town-palaces of Italy as shown 
by Palladio. Perhaps thus early, rather than when he himself became 
Governor in 1779, he projected a transformation of the Palace at 
Williamsburg by pedimented porticoes of eight columns, the "full 
width of roof 'into the form of a temple, prophetic of extremes of 
the^classic revival not yet even proposed abroad. 

For any broader idea of the other arts, he had also to look to books. 
The chapter on Sculpture in his library catalogue begins with Spence's 
Polymetis, first published in 1747. Then came Francois Perrier's folio 
Signa et Statua Antiqua (as Jefferson gives the title), a hundred stat- 
ues drawn and engraved in Rome in 1638. Significant among the de- 
siderata was the Monumenti inedtti (1767-1768) of Winckelmann, 
whose epoch-making History of Art of 1764, first declaring the supe- 
riority of Greek art over the Roman, Jefferson later acquired while 

The chapter on Painting begins with Webb's Essay on Painting., An 
Inquiry into the Beauties of Paintings, 1760, which Jefferson recom- 
mended to Robert Skipworth as early as 1771. Other books he surely 
had before he went abroad were Jonathan Richardson's Theory of 
Painting and Essay on a Connoisseur, which first appeared in 1715 
and 1719, Da Vinci on Painting, William Gilpin's Essay on Prints, first 
published in 1768, and the Aedes Walpoliana, 1743. Webb, Richard- 
son, and Gilpin were alike in expounding the academic style, with 
much emphasis on the handling of historical subject matter, classical 

14 Letter of January SO, 1803, in G. CMnard, Trots amities franpaises de Jef- 
ferson: 125, 1927. 


and Biblical. Among what seem also to be early entries in his cata- 
logue are The perfect painter, 16, and Le vite de Pittore di Giorgio 
Vasari, though we cannot be certain that these were actually acquired 
before he went abroad. One book, listed as a desideratum, he did not 
subsequently acquire: Richardson s account of paintings, statues,, etc. 
in Italy, first published in 1722. It will be obvious, however, that he 
had seen and read this perhaps indeed he had owned a copy before 
the fire of Shadwell in 1770 and that it was a chief source of his 
ideas regarding sculpture and painting. 

Jefferson very early planned to adorn Monticello with casts and 
copies of famous works. About 1771 he listed these in his building 
notebook. 15 The list of statues desired is as follows: 

Venus of Medicis, Florence 
Hercules of Farnese, Rome 

Apollo of Belvedere, Rome 
Antinous, Florence 

Dancing Faunus 

Messenger pulling out a thorn 

Roman slave whetting his knife 

The Gladiator of Montalto 

Myrmillo expiring, Rome 

The Gladiator reposing Mmself after 

the engagement (companion to the former) 
Hercules and Antaeus 
The two wrestlers 
The Rape of the Sabines (3 figures) 

This selection is made with discrimination from among the works 
then most admired. It is interesting to canvass how the young enthu- 
siast could arrive at such a list. Obviously his knowledge must have 
come from books; the field is narrowed to those he owned, or had 
seen and desired. Among these, we find that his chief source was in- 
deed Richardson's critical work on the statues and paintings of Italy. 
Richardson speaks at one point (p. 156) of the Meleager, "one of the 
seven principal Antique statues; the others are the Venus, the Apollo, 
Hercules, Gladiator, Laocoon and Antmoiis." Most of these are de- 

15 Thomas Jefferson, Architect, fig. 79. 

Thomas Jefferson and the Arts 201 

scribed singly elsewhere. Of them Jefferson included five, excluding 
the group of the Laocoon and the figure of Meleager, which Rich- 
ardson merely mentions without describing it anywhere. Joseph Addi- 
son*s Remarks on Several Parts of Italy, published in 1705, which 
Jefferson also owned before he went abroad, mentions at one point 
(p. 341) as among the most famous statues, "the Venus de Medids, 
the Silenus with the Young Bacchus in his Arms, the Hercules Far- 
nese, the Antinous." But that much of Jefferson's list was indeed from 
Bichardson is shown by many evidences: the form of the names like 
"Venus of Medicis" or "Faunus dancing"; the inclusion of works not 
mentioned by Addison, like the "Myrmillo dying," at the Palazzo 
Pamfili, of which Richardson gives a long appreciation (p. 301). On 
the other hand, it is in Addison and not in Bichardson that we find 
the forms "Roman slave whetting his knif e" and "The two wrestlers," 
and mention and praise of the Hercules and Antaeus at the Pitti 

Jefferson did not content himself merely with descriptions. We 
have seen already that he owned the folios of Spence and of Perrier* 
In the Polymetis, limited to representations of gods and demigods, 
were fine full-page plates of the "Venus of Medicis," the Apollo Belve- 
dere, and the Hercules Farnese. In Perrier, published before the 
Medici collection was removed to Florence in 1677, were many 
more, not only the Hercules, the Apollo, the Venus, and the Antinous 
(Hermes) of the Vatican, but the Wrestlers, and the Myrmillo Ex- 
piring. Even these books were evidently not the end of his resources; 
a few scattered allusions not derived from them must have come 
from other works which he had somewhere seen. We observe that 
Jefferson did not merely follow any single list, but made his own 
independently, on the strength of his reading. 

The building notebook also listed paintings: "St. Paul preaching at 
Athens; St. Ignatius at prayer; Jephtha meeting his daughter; Sacri- 
fice of Iphigenia; History of Seleucus giving his beloved wife Strato- 
nice to his only son Seleucus who languished for her, Florence; Diana 
Venetrix (see Spence's Polymetis)." 16 It is hard to know where he 
formed his idea of these works aside from the last. Among them only 
the St. Paul preaching at Athens, in Raphael's cartoon, receives spe- 
cial emphasis in the books we have mentioned. 

16 Shown there on plate xm, figure 4, is an onyx of the subject "in Senator 
Buonarotfs collection at Florence/* 


In 1782 he added a note: "Bellini tells me that historical paintings 
on canvas 6 f. by 12 f. will cost 15 sterl. if copied by a good hand.** 

In that year, planning to go abroad, he obviously hoped to be able 
to secure such copies, as he transcribed his desiderata 17 with some 
additions, with the dimensions of certain of the paintings, and now 
significantly not merely with the subjects but some of the painters' 
names. The list of these then stood: 

Belisarius from Salvator Rosa (Date oboium Belisario) 

Jeptha meeting his daughter by ZoccM 

St. Ignatius at prayer by 

The Prodigal son from Salvator Rosa, 8f 31 high 65 5M wide 

Susanna & the two elders by Rubens, 6f high, 7f 8M wide 

The stoning of St. Stephen from Le Soeur, 9f SMI high, llf 31 wide 

Curtius leaping into the gulph, from Mola, 6f 6MI high, llf 4/2 wide 

Codes defending the bridge, companion to the other 

Paul preaching at Athens, from a cartoon of Ra. Urbin 

The sacrifice of Iphigenia 

Seleucus giving his wife Stratonice to his son 

Five of the additions to the earlier list, including the four for which 
dimensions are given, are selected from the collection of Sir Robert 
Walpole, at Houghton, catalogued by Horace Walpole in his Aedes 
Walpolmna. All the additions find mention in that work, and the 
dimensions are identical with those there stated. In the Introduction 
Walpole stresses particularly the genius of Salvator Rosa, mention- 
ing both the Prodigal at Houghton and Lord Townshend's Belisarius, 
he praises Le Sueur's Saint Stephen as equal to Raphael, and he men- 
tions with admiration Mola's Curtius which, like his Horatius Codes, 
is very fully annotated. The Susanna of Rubens is not specially dis- 
tinguished or described; this choice from among the many works 
listed by Walpole was Jefferson's own. Clearly all the paintings were 
chosen primarily for their subjects, with the moralizing character 
then so much valued. The artists were major figures of the admired 
academic canon, not excluding baroque masters. 

The library catalogue also lists a few early desiderata in the way 
of prints, chiefly by Hogarth, with twelve "from dramatic and humor- 
ous paintings of Hayman (of Falstaff for the most part)." We have, 
alas, no list of the prints Jefferson ultimately owned, like that of 

17 In his library catalogue, after the desiderata in the way of books on art. 

Thomas Jefferson and the Arts 203 

Washington's at Mount Vemon. 18 An inventory of taxable property 
at Monticello in 1815 lists, besides portraits in oil and crayon, "64 
pictures, prints, engravings with frames more than 12 i, and 39 do 5 
under 12 L with gilt frames." As Jefferson's manuscript catalogue of 
his paintings, though incomplete, lists fifty-five with religious or 
mythological subjects, this would give him perhaps forty prints. As 
in the case of the major arts, his interests in prints became more and 
more specialized in historical and American subjects. 19 In his ac- 
counts for 1790 we find "Gave J. Tmmbull order ... for 2 sets of 
engravings from Ms Bunker Hill and Death of Montgomery 7 *; in 
1800, "Gave Birch an order ... for 5. D. for plates" doubtless William 
Birch's celebrated views of Philadelphia then appearing. One of Jef- 
ferson's sets of the Trambuli engravings now hangs again at Monti- 
cello. Although Jefferson bought engraving utensils in Paris in 1786, 
we do not know that he joined so many famous amateurs of that 
period, as diverse as Madame de Pompadour and Goethe, in attempt- 
ing himself the practice of this art. 

It was in Paris, the capital of the arts, that Jefferson had opportun- 
ity to indulge all his fondness for them, during his five years as 
Minister from 1784 to 1789. 20 He was not slow in forming close rela- 
tions with leading figures. Baron Grimm, agent of the Empress 
Catherine and author of the Gorrespondance Ititeraire, which kept 
foreign courts abreast of the latest developments in letters and in the 
arts, was an intimate, who came often to Jefferson's elegant house in 
the Champs Elysees. In the salon of Madame d'Houdetot, friend of 
Rousseau and Saint-Lambert, in the intimacy of Madame de Tesse at 
her superb estate of Chaville, of the Duchesse d*Anvi!le, of Madame 
de Stael, he knew all the leading figures of the world of taste. 

The happiest picture of Jefferson's indulgence in these tastes is the 
record of the idyllic days of early September 1786, passed in company 
with the beautiful and passionate Maria Cosway, herself a painter: 
seeing the King's library, the chateaux of Madrid, of Marly, of Louve- 
ciennes, attending the Concert Spiritual, seeing the Garde Meuble, 
buying pictures, engravings and books, hiring a pianoforte "after 

18 Manuscript inventories in the Library of Congress excerpted by R. T. H. 

Halsey, "Prints Washington Lived with at Mount Vernon," in BuU. Metropolitan 

Mus. Art 30: 63-65, 1935. 

** Cf. Marie Kimball, "Jefferson, Patron of the Arts," in Antiques, April 1943* 
20 Marie Kimball, "Jefferson in Paris,*' in North American Rev. 248: 72-86, 



dinner to Saint Cloud, from Saint Cloud to Ruggieri's, from Ruggi- 
erf s to Krumfolz >7 -~no wonder that his heart for once nearly tri- 
umphed over his head! 

Almost immediately on his arrival in Paris, in August 1784, Jeffer- 
son began buying casts and pictures, 21 at first rather casually and 
for small sums. These doubtless included such copies as that of a 
Holy Family of Raphael now at Monticello. Very soon, however, he 
was buying original works of some importance. From the De Billy 
collection, sold November 16-18, he acquired No. 21, a weeping 
Virgin catalogued as by Carlo Maratti. The next February he bought 
extensively at the sale of the cabinet of Dupille de Saint-Severin, 
Nos. 36, 59, 248, and 306. They were a St. Peter of Guido Reni (72 
francs), a Daughter of Herodias with the head of St. John the Baptist 
attributed to Simon Vouet (100 francs the picture survives, at Monti- 
cello) 22 , and a Prodigal Son by an unknown master (53 francs). 23 
These and many more, which later adorned Monticello, were de- 
scribed by Jefferson in a manuscript catalogue with appropriate Bib- 
lical references and classical quotations. 

Among fashionable living artists, it is very easy to patronize the 
ones who are soon forgotten. Jefferson showed in art die same pro- 
phetic insight as in politics. For assistance in drawing up his designs 
for the new Virginia capitol he turned to Clerisseau, author of the 
Antiquites de Nismes and a pioneer of classical enthusiasm in France. 
With Legrand and Molinos, Jefferson studied their method of build- 
ing the great dome of the Halle au Ble, which he was later to recom- 
mend for the dome of the Capitol in Washington. To make for the 
Commonwealth of Virginia the statue of General Washington, com- 
missioned for Virginia, he sent across the Atlantic in 1785 the sculptor 
Houdon, supreme in portraiture. Houdon also made the bust of 
Lafayette for the state as well as Jefferson^s own bust Jefferson had 
at Monticello plaster busts by Houdon of Franklin, John Paul Jones, 
Turgot, Voltaire, Lafayette, and Washington. His portrait of Franldin 
was by Greuze. He wrote in 1789, with a preference which time has 

21 Cf. Marie ICimball, The Furnishings of Monticello: 7, 1940. 

22 It does not correspond in composition with Vouet's treatment of the 
subject in a painting, now lost, engraved by Claude Mellan, but may well be 
another version, hitherto unknown, by the same artist. 

23 The sale-catalogue entries and prices were kindly transcribed for me by 
M. Michel Benisovitch. 

Thomas Jefferson and the Arts 205 

ratified, "I do not feel an interest in any pencil but that of David/' 24 
Much later, after the death of Houdon, when the authorities of North. 
Carolina sought Jefferson's advice as to a sculptor for a figure of 
Washington, it was to Canova that he sent them. 

His patronage and encouragement of American painters were not 
less enlightened. He owned several works by West. He had Stuart 
twice paint his portrait. Trumbull, with his great project for historical 
paintings of the Revolution, he took into his house in Paris; the orig- 
inal composition for the Declaration of Independence was sketched 

Sculpture, more difficult to acclimate in America, he made every 
effort to encourage. Besides sending Houdon, he patronized Joseph 
Wright and Giuseppi Ceracchi when they came to America. Later, 
as President, he brought over Andrei and Franzoni to work on the 
Capitol in Washington. 

It was in architecture, however, that Jefferson was most to leave 
his mark. Even before he went to Paris he had made a design for the 
capitol of Virginia, first of all buildings projected to house the new 
republican governments of America. Not content with current fash- 
ions, he himself prepared drawings, taking as his model a Roman 
temple, the Maison Carree at Nimes, with its great portico fitting 
within the body, pierced by windows, the houses of legislature. It 
was the earliest major affirmation of the ideals of the classic revival 
in an executed building, transcending the English garden temples 
which first followed such models, and preceding Napoleon's temple 
of victory, the Madeleine in Paris, by a score of years. Of a piece 
with the republican enthusiasm for the heroes of Plutarch, the Cin- 
cinnati, the building was a manifesto of classic monumentality, sim- 
plicity, and dignity, which established the character of the public 
buildings of the new states and of the nation. 

When federal government was established by the Constitution, 
Jefferson, as the first Secretary of State, had further opportunity to 
implant his artistic ideas. He aided the French engineer, L'Enfant, 
in the planning of the new Federal City of Washington, and urged 
on Kim the adoption of classical models for the public buildings. 
When I/Enfant quarrelled with the authorities, Jefferson proposed 
holding a competition for designs for the Capitol and President's 

24 Writings, Lipscomb ed., 7: 308, 1903. 


House, and himself submitted, anonymously, one for the latter based 
on Palladio's Villa Rotonda, while encouraging the gifted French 
architect Stephen Hallet to prepare one for the Capitol within the 
body of a peristylar temple. 

Retired in 1793 from Washington's cabinet and, as he hoped, from 
public life, Jefferson planned a remodelling of Monticello on more 
Roman lines, adapted in part from the Hotel de Salm, now the Palace 
of the Legion of Honor, which he had admired in Paris as one of the 
latest architectural novelties. Its effect of a single story, its Roman 
dome, had their influence on the house we know today, certainly one 
of the most beautiful, as it is one of the most original, of American 
buildings. Over many years Jefferson continued the development of 
the grounds, being the first to achieve, as he had been the first to 
propose, the adoption of the English style of informal, landscape 

On his accession to the Presidency, Jefferson did not neglect the 
opportunity to foster the arts. He created the post of Surveyor of 
Public Buildings, appointing to it Benjamin Henry Latrobe, well 
trained in England, who had just built in the admirable Bank of 
Pennsylvania the first monument of the Greek revival in America. It 
was he who completed the wings of the old Capitol, and who began 
its rebuilding after it was burned by the British. To Jefferson himself, 
while he occupied the White House, are due its circular portico 
toward the Potomac and its long flanking colonnades. 

For his friends in the Virginia Piedmont Jefferson gave the designs 
of such great houses as Edgehill, Farmington, Edgemont, Ampthill, 
and Barboursville, their tall Roman porticoes establishing the type 
to prevail in the ante-bellum South. 

As a creative artist in architecture, Jefferson transcended the inher- 
ent philosophical weakness of the systems, academic and neo- 
classic, which he had espoused. A clear analysis of practical uses, an 
instinctive sense of form, tacitly directing his processes of mathemat- 
ical determination, led him to a genial synthesis in which use and 
form were embodied with crystalline unity and perfection. This is 
evident above all in his greatest achievement in building, the Uni- 
versity of Virginia. His brilliant conception of the "academical vil- 
lage," with its pavilions for the professors, their classrooms and living 
quarters, their balconies and gardens giving privacy in the midst of 
the communal life, its ranges of rooms for the students, their colon- 

Thomas Jefferson and the Arts 207 

nades and arcades for communication under cover, its centralized 
and centralizing library as the heart of the institution, was given 
artistic form, within his classical allegiance, by the contrast of the 
"perfect models" of "cubical" and of "spherical architecture/* by the 
dominance of the Rotunda, the unifying repetition of the porticoes, 
the melodious treble of the white columns against the warm thor- 
oughbass of the brick walls. 

Fortunate we are as a nation that among our great founders was 
a man of such artistic culture and creative power, who could endow 
us with his example and his works. 



Thomas Jefferson's republican convictions were formed early in his 
life, upon what was then the western frontier; when he was only 
twenty-two years old they seem to have been crystallized by a speech 
of Patrick Henry in opposition to the British Stamp Act. From that 
time on he was a leader in every movement for freedom and indepen- 
dence, usually somewhat in advance of other "rebels," finding what 
he said or wrote disapproved of at the time, only to win later assent. 
He developed with the experiences enlarged responsibilities gave 
him, but it was uninterruptedly in one direction. Political expediency 
may have caused him to deviate on special points, but there are few 
men in public Me whose course has been so straight. Natural sym- 
pathies, actual experiences, and intellectual principles united in him 
to produce a character of singular consistency and charm. He was 
that rare person in politics, an idealist whose native faith was devel- 
oped, checked, and confirmed by extremely extensive and varied 
practical experience. The pages of history may be searched to find 
another man whose native constitution destined him to espouse the 
liberal cause and whose career so happily furnished the conditions 
that gave him opportunity for articulate expression in deed and word. 

Just as it was the "people" in whom Jefferson trusted as the foun- 
dation and ultimate security of self-governing institutions, so it was 
the enlightenment of the people as a whole that was his aim in pro- 
moting the advance of science. In a letter to a French friend, in which 

From The Virginia Quarterly Review, Winter 1940. Copyright 1939 by The 
Virginia Quarterly Review. Reprinted by permission of John Dewey, The Virginia 
Quarterly Review, and the David McKay Company, Inc. 


Thomas Jefferson and the Democratic Faith 209 

he says that Ms prayers are offered for the well-being of France, he 
adds that her future government depends not on "the state of science, 
no matter how exalted it may be in a select band of enlightened men, 
but on the condition of the general mind/' What is hinted at in these 
remarks is openly stated in other letters. As the French Revolution 
went on from its beginnings., which aroused his deepest sympathies, 
to the despotism of Napoleon, he became increasingly skeptical of 
the social influence of a small band of enlightened men like the 
French philosophes* His most extreme reaction is found in a letter to 
John Adams: "As for France and England, with all their preeminence 
in science, the one is a den of robbers, and the other of pirates. And 
if science produces no better fruits than tyranny., murder, rapine, and 
destitution of national morality, I should wish our country to be 
ignorant, honest, and estimable, as our neighboring savages are." 

Jefferson's emphasis upon the relation of science and learning to 
practical serviceability had two sources. One of them was the new- 
ness of his own country, and his conviction that needs should be 
satisfied in the degree of their urgency. Political liberty or as he 
calls it in one place, physical liberty came first. A certain measure 
of material security was needed to buttress this liberty. As these were 
achieved, he was confident that the spread of education and general 
enlightenment would add what was lacking in the refinements of 
culture, things very precious to him personally. 

The other cause of Jefferson's subordination of science and arts to 
social utility was his European experience. Science, no matter how 
"exalted," did not prevent wholesale misery and oppression if it was 
confined to a few. In spite of his very enjoyable personal relations 
with the leading intellectuals of Paris, his deepest sympathies went 
to the downtrodden masses whose huts he visited and whose food 
he ate. His affection for the "people," whose welfare was the real 
and final object of all social institutions, and his faith in the "will 
of the people" as the basis of all legitimate political arrangements 
made Mm distrust advances in knowledge and the arts that left the 
mass of the people in a state of misery and degradation. 

The balanced relation in Jefferson's ideas between the well-being 
of the masses and the higher cultivation of the arts and sciences is 
best expressed in his educational project. Elementary popular school- 
ing educated the many. But it also served a selective purpose. It 
allowed the abler students to be picked out and to continue instruc- 


tion in the middle grade. Through the agency of the latter the "natu- 
ral aristocracy" of intellect and character would be selected to go 
on to university education. State universities have carried forward 
Jefferson's idea of a continuous education ladder, that of Michigan 
being directly influenced by him. 


Jefferson's stay in France gave rise to the notion that his political 
philosophy was framed under French intellectual influence. It is 
easy to understand why, after the reaction produced by the excesses 
of the French Revolution, Jefferson's political enemies put forward 
the idea as an accusation, extremists calling him a participant in 
Gallic atheism, licentiousness, and anarchy. Just why scholars have 
entertained the same idea, not as a charge against him, but as evi- 
dence of close intellectual relations between American social theory 
and the French Enlightenment is not so clear. Every one of Jeffer- 
son's characteristic political ideas with one possible exception was 
definitely formulated by him before he went to France. It is probable 
that his inclination toward the moral ideas of Epicurus, among the 
classic writers, dates from acquaintance made in Paris, but that did 
not affect his political ideas or even his working ethical views. Rous- 
seau is not even mentioned by him. The moderate French Charter of 
Rights a practical, not a theoretical, document receives fairly ex- 
tensive notice; the Rights of Man, the barest casual mention. 

The fact is that in Jefferson's opinion the movement intellectual 
and practical, was from the United States to France and Europe, not 
from the latter to America. The possible exception, alluded to above, 
is found in Jefferson's emphasis upon the moral inability of one 
generation to bind a succeeding generation by imposing either a 
debt or an unalterable Constitution upon it. His assertion that the 
"earth belongs in usufruct to the living; that the dead have neither 
powers nor rights over if was general in scope. But his argument (in 
a letter written from Paris) closes with a statement of the importance 
of the matter "in every country and most especially in France." For, 
as he saw, if the new government could not abolish the laws regula- 
ting descent of land, recover lands previously given to the church, 
abolish feudal and ecclesiastical special privileges, and all perpetual 

Thomas Jefferson and the Democratic Faith 211 

monopolies, reformation of government would be hamstrung before 
it got started. 

The genuine and undeniable influence of France upon Jefferson is 
shown in a letter he wrote expressing his amazement upon finding 
the prevalence of monarchical ideas upon his return to New York, 
when, as he says, "fresh from France, while in its first and pure stage/' 
he was "somewhat whetted up in my own republican principles." 
The real significance of the question of French influence upon him 
is found in the larger matter of the sources of the ideas he expressed 
in the Declaration of Independence. I believe that it is true that he 
meant simply to write "an expression of the American mind in words 
so firm and plain as to command assent." There was nothing that was 
novel in the idea that "governments derive their just powers from the 
consent of the governed," nor did it find its origin in Locke's writings- 
Yearly perfect" as were the latter in Jefferson's opinion. Even the 
right of the people "to alter or abolish" a government when it became 
destructive of the inherent moral rights of the governed had behind 
it a tradition that long antedated the writings of even Locke. 

There was, nevertheless, something distinctive, something original, 
in the Declaration. What was new and significant was that these 
ideas were now set forth as an expression of the "American mind" 
that the American will was prepared to act upon. Jefferson was as 
profoundly convinced of the novelty of the action as a practical 
"experiment" a favorite word of his in connection with the institu- 
tion of self-government as he was of the orthodox character of the 
ideas as mere theory. 

Jefferson used the language of the time in his assertion of "natural 
rights" upon which governments are based and which they must 
observe if they are to have legitimate authority. What is not now so 
plain is that the word moral can be substituted for the word natural 
whenever Jefferson used the latter in connection with law and rights, 
not only without changing his meaning but making it clearer to a 
modern reader. Not only does he say: "I am convinced man has no 
natural right in opposition to his social duties," and that "man was 
destined for society," but also that "questions of natural right are 
triable by their conformity with the moral sense and reason of man." 
In a letter to de Nemours, Jefferson developed his moral and politi- 
cal philosophy at some length by making a distinction "between the 
structure of the govemment and the moral principles" on which its 


administration is based. It was here that he said, "We of the United 
States are constitutionally and conscientiously democrats/' and then 
went on to give the statement a moral interpretation. Man is created 
with a want for society and with the powers to satisfy that want in 
concurrence with others. When he has procured that satisfaction by 
instituting a society, the latter is a product which man has a right to 
regulate "jointly with all those who have concurred in its procure- 
ment/' "There exists a right independent of force" and "Justice is the 
fundamental law of society." 

So much for the moral foundation and aim of government. Its 
structure concerns the special way in which men jointly exercise their 
right of control. He knew too much history and had had a share in 
making too much history not to know that governments had to be 
accommodated to the manners and habits of the people who compose 
a given state. When a population is large and spread over consid- 
erable space, it is not possible for a society to govern itself directly. 
It does so indirectly by electing representatives to whom it delegates 
its powers. "Governments are more or less republican as they have 
more or less of the element of popular election and control in their 
composition/' Writing in 1816, he said that the United States, meas- 
ured by this criterion, were less republican than they should be, and 
he attributed this to the fact that lawmakers who came from large 
cities had learned to be afraid of the populace, and then unjustly 
extended their fears to the "independent, the happy and therefore 
orderly citizens of the United States." Anyone who starts from the 
moral principle of Jefferson as a premise and adds to it as another 
premise the principle that the only legitimate "object of the institu- 
tion of government is to secure the greatest degree of happiness pos- 
sible to the general mass of those associated under it" can, with little 
trouble, derive the further tenets of Jefferson's political creed. 

The will of the people as the moral basis of government and the 
happiness of the people as its controlling aim were so firmly estab- 
lished with Jefferson that it was axiomatic that the only alternative to 
the republican position was fear, in lieu of trust of the people. Given 
fear of them, it followed, as by mathematical necessity, not only that 
they must not be given a large share in the conduct of government, 
but that they must themselves be controlled by force, moral or phys- 
ical or both, and by appeal to some special interest served by govern- 
mentan appeal which, according to Jefferson, inevitably meant 

Thomas Jefferson and the Democratic Faith 213 

the use of means to corrupt the people. Jefferson's trust in the people 
was a faith in what he sometimes called their common sense and 
sometimes their reason. They might be fooled and misled for a time, 
but give them light and in the long run their oscillations this way 
and that will describe what in effect is a straight course. 

I am not underestimating Jefferson's abilities as a practical poli- 
tician when I say that this deep-seated faith in the people and their 
responsiveness to enlightenment properly presented was a most im- 
portant factor in enabling him to effect, against great odds, "the revo- 
lution of 1800." It is the cardinal element bequeathed by Jefferson 
to the American tradition. 


Jefferson's belief in the necessity for strict limitation of the powers 
of officials had both a general and a special or historic source. As for 
the latter, had not the Revolution itself been fought because of the 
usurpation of power by the officers of a government? And were not 
the political opponents of republicanism, in Jefferson s opinion, men 
so moved by admiration of the British Constitution that they wished 
to establish a "strong" government in this country, one not above the 
use of methods of corruption not as an end in itself but as a means 
of procuring the allegiance of the populace more effectively and in 
a less costly way than by use of direct coercion? On general prin- 
ciples, Jefferson knew that possession of unusual and irresponsible 
power corrupts those who wield it; that officials are, after all, human 
beings affected by ordinary weaknesses of human nature, "wares 
from the same workshop, made of the same materials." Hence they 
were to be continually watched, tested and checked, as well as con- 
stitutionally limited in their original grant of powers. 

There are, however, two important points in which popular repre- 
sentations of Jeffersonian democracy are often at fault. One of them 
concerns the basic importance of the will of the people in relation 
to the law-making power, constitutional and ordinary. There is no 
doubt that Jefferson was strongly in favor of specifying in the Con- 
stitution the powers that could be exercised by officials, executive, 
legislative, and judicial, and then holding them, by strict construc- 
tion, to the powers specified. But he also believed that "every people 


have their own particular habits, ways of thinking, manners, et cetera, 
which have grown up with them from their infancy, are become a 
part of their nature, and to which the regulations which are to make 
them happy must be accommodated." Elsewhere he states the prin- 
ciple that "The excellence of every government is its adaptation to 
the state of those to be governed by it." 

His idealism was a moral idealism, not a dreamy utopianism. He 
was aware that conclusions drawn from the past history of mankind 
were against the success of the experiment that was being tried on 
American soil. He was quite sure that Latin American countries 
would succeed in throwing off the yoke of Spain and Portugal, but 
he was decidedly skeptical about their capacity for self-government, 
and feared their future would be one of a succession of military 
despotisms for a long time to come. He was conscious that chances for 
greater success of the experiment in the United States were depen- 
dent upon events which might be regarded either as fortunate acci- 
dents or as providential dispensations: the wide ocean protecting the 
country from oppressive governments in Europe; the "Anglo-Saxon" 
tradition of liberties; even the jealousies of religious denominations 
that prevented the establishment of a state church, and hence worked 
for religious liberty; the immense amount of free land and available 
natural resources with consequent continual freedom of movement; 
the independence and vigor that were bred on the frontier; and so 
on. Even so, he had fears for the future when the country should be 
urbanized and industrialized. 

In direct line with his conviction on this point was his belief in the 
necessity of periodic revisions of the Constitution, one to take place 
every twenty years, and his belief that the process of ordinary amend- 
ment had been made too difficult. His faith in the right of the people 
to govern themselves in their own way and in their ability to exercise 
the right wisely, provided they were enlightened by education and 
by free discussion, were stronger than his faith in any article of his 
own political creed except this one. His own convictions as to the 
proper forms of government were strong, and he contended ably for 
their realization. But he was conciliatory by temperament and by 
practical policy. Students and historians have criticized him for not 
trying harder to put into effect after the "revolution of 1800" the 
reforms he had been urging before that time, especially as he based 
his opposition to Adams upon their absence. Doubtless he was moved 

Thomas Jefferson and the Democratic Faith 215 

by considerations of political expediency. But there is also no reason 
to doubt the sincerity of those expressions of his which set forth his 
willingness to subordinate his own political policies to the judgment 
of the people. 

In any case, he was no friend of what he called "sanctimonious 
reverence" for the Constitution. He adhered to the view, expressed 
in the Declaration of Independence, that people are more disposed 
to suffer evils than to right them by abolishing forms to which they 
are accustomed. It was the more important, accordingly, to recog- 
nize that "laws and institution must go hand in hand with the progress 
of the human mind" and that institutions must change with change 
of circumstances brought about by "discoveries, new truths, change 
of opinions and manners/' Were he alive, he would note and scourge 
that lack of democratic faith which, in the professed name of democ- 
racy, asserts that the "ark of the covenant is too sacred to be touched." 
Jefferson saw that periodical overhauling of the fundamental law 
was the alternative to change effected only by violence and repeti- 
tion of the old historic round "of oppressions, rebellions, reforma- 
tions, oppressions. . . ." There was but one thing that was unchange- 
able, and that was the "inherent and inalienable rights of man." 

The other point on which Jefferson's ideas have not been ade- 
quately represented has to do with his belief that state governments 
"are the true barriers of our liberty," and his fear of centralized 
government at Washington not that he did not have and hold with 
strong conviction tibe belief and the fear, but that the ideas with 
which he supplemented them have not received due attention. He 
attached much importance to self-governing communities of much 
smaller size than the state or even the county. He was impressed, 
practically as well as theoretically, with the effectiveness of the New 
England town meeting, and wished to see something of the sort made 
an organic part of the governing process of the whole country. Divi- 
sion of every county into wards was first suggested by him in connec- 
tion with the organization of an elementary school system. But even 
from his early service in the legislature of Virginia to the latest years 
of his life he urged the adoption of his plan. In a letter written after 
he was seventy, he wrote, "As Cato concluded every speech with the 
words 'Carthago delenda esf so do I with the injunction 'Divide the 
counties into wards'." 

While the first purpose of the division into small local units was 


the establishment and care of popular elementary schools, the full 
aim was to make the wards 'Tittle republics, with a warden at the 
head of each, for all those concerns, which being under their eye, 
they would better manage than the larger republics of the county or 
State." They were to have the "care of the poor, roads, police, elec- 
tions, nomination of jurors, administration of justice in small cases, 
elementary exercises of militia." In short, they were to exercise di- 
rectly with respect to their own affairs all the functions of govern- 
ment, civil and military. In addition, when any important wider 
matter came up for decision, all wards would be called into meetings 
on the same day, so that the collective sense of the whole people 
would be produced. The plan was not adopted. But it was an essen- 
tial part of Jefferson's political philosophy. The significance of the 
doctrine of "states' rights'* as he held it is incomplete both theoreti- 
cally and practically until this plan is taken into the reckoning. "The 
elementary republics of the wards, the county republics, the State 
republics and the Republic of the Union would form a gradation of 
authorities/' Every man would then share in the government of affairs 
not merely on election day but every day. In a letter to John Adams, 
written in 1813, he wrote that he still had great hope that the plan 
would be adopted, and would then form "the keystone of the arch of 
our government. 3 " It is for this reason that I say this view of self- 
government is very inadequately represented in the usual form in 
which it is set forthas a glorification of state against Federal govern- 
ments, and still more as a theoretical opposition to all government 
save as a necessary evil. The heart of his philosophy of politics is 
found in his effort to institute the small administrative and legislative 
unit as the keystone of the arch. 

i v 

As was suggested earlier, the essentially moral nature of Jefferson's 
political philosophy is concealed from us at the present time because 
of the change that has taken place in the language in which moral 
ideas are expressed. The "self-evident truths'" about the equality of 
all men by creation and the existence of "inherent [changed to 'cer- 
tain' by Congress] and inalienable rights," appear today to have a 
legal rather than a moral meaning; and in addition, the intellectual 

Thomas Jefferson and the Democratic Faith 217 

basis of the legal theory of natural law and natural rights has been 
undermined by historical and philosophical criticism. In Jefferson's 
own mind, the words had a definitely ethical import, intimately and 
vitally connected with his view of God and nature. The latter con- 
nection comes out more clearly in the preamble, in which he refers 
to the necessity of the American people taking the "separate and 
equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle 

These phrases were not rhetorical flourishes, nor were they accom- 
modated for reasons of expediency to what Jefferson thought would 
be popular with the people of the country. Jefferson was a sincere 
deist. Although his rejection of supernaturalism and of the authority 
of churches and their creeds caused him to be denounced as an 
atheist, he was convinced, beyond any peradventure, on natural and 
rational grounds of the existence of a divine righteous Creator who 
manifested His purposes in the structure of the world, especially in 
that of society and the human conscience. The natural equality of 
all human beings was not psychological or legal. It was intrinsically 
moral, as a consequence of the equal moral relation all human beings 
sustain to their Creator equality of moral claims and of moral re- 
sponsibilities. Positive law or municipal law, as Jefferson termed it 
and political institutions thus have botib a moral foundation and a 
moral criterion or measure. 

The word "faith" is thus applied advisedly to the attitude of 
Jefferson toward the people's will, and its right to control political 
institutions and policies. The faith had a genuinely religious quality. 
The forms of government and law, even of the Constitution, might 
and should change. But the inherent and inalienable rights of man 
were unchangeable, because they express the will of the righteous 
Creator of man embodied in the very structure of society and con- 
science. Jefferson was not an "individualist" in the sense of the British 
laissez-faire liberal school. He believed that individual human beings 
receive the right of self-government "with their being from the hand 
of nature." As an eighteenth-century deist and believer in natural 
religion, Jefferson connected nature and nature's God inseparably 
in his thought He wrote that he had "no fear but that the result of 
our experiment will be that men may be trusted to govern themselves 
without a master. Could the contrary of this be proved, I should 
conclude either that there is no God, or that he is a malevolent being." 


These words are to be taken literally, not rhetorically, if one wishes 
to understand Jefferson's democratic faith. The connection of justice- 
or equitywith equality of rights and duties was a commonplace of 
the moral tradition of Christendom. Jefferson took the tradition 
seriously. His statements about the origin of the Declaration of Inde- 
pendence are confirmed in what he wrote shortly before his death: 
"We had no occasion to search into musty records, to hunt up royal 
parchments, or to investigate the laws and institutions of a semibar- 
barous ancestry. We appealed to those of nature, and found them 
engraved on our hearts." 

Other days bring other words and other opinions behind words that 
are used. The terms in which Jefferson expressed his belief in the 
moral criterion for judging all political arrangements and his belief 
that republican institutions are the only ones that are morally legiti- 
mate are not now current. It is doubtful, however, whether defense of 
democracy against the attacks to which it is subjected does not de- 
pend upon taking once more the position Jefferson took about its 
moral basis and purpose, even though we have to find another set of 
words in which td formulate the moral ideal served by democracy. 
A renewal of faith in common human nature, in its potentialities in 
general and in its power in particular to respond to reason and truth, 
is a surer bulwark against totalitarianism than is demonstration of 
material success or devout worship of special legal and political 




'Twas midsummer; cooling breezes all the languid forests fanned, 
And the angel of the evening drew her curtain o'er the land. 
Like an isle rose Monticello through the cooled and rippling trees, 
Like an isle in rippling starlight in the silence of the seas. 
Ceased the mocking-bird his singing; said the slaves with faltering 

"Tis the Third, and on the morrow Heaven will send the Angel 



In his room at Monticello, lost in dreams the statesman slept, 
Seeing not the still forms round him, seeing not the eyes that wept, 
Hearing not the old clock ticking in life's final silence loud, 
Knowing not when night came o'er him like the shadow of a cloud. 
In the past his soul is living as in fifty years ago, 
Hastes again to Philadelphia, hears again the Schuylkill flow 


Meets again the elder Adams knowing not that far away 
He is waiting for Death's morrow, on old Massachusetts Bay; 
Meets with Hancock, young and courtly, meets with Hopkins, bent 

and old, 

Meets again calm Roger Sherman, fiery Lee, and Carroll bold, 
Meets the sturdy form of Franklin, meets the half a hundred men 
Who have made themselves immortal, breathes the ancient morn 


From Songs of History, by Hezekiah Butterworth. Boston, 1887. 




Once again the Declaration in his nerveless hands he holds, 
And before the waiting statesmen its prophetic hope unfolds, 
Reads again the words puissant, "All men are created free," 
Claims again for man his birthright, claims the world's equality, 
Hears the coming and the going of an hundred firm-set feet, 
Hears the summer breezes blowing 'mid the oak-trees cool and sweet, 

Sees again tall Patrick Henry by the side of Henry Lee, 

Hears him cry, "And will ye sign it? it will make all nations free! 

Fear ye not the axe or gibbet; it shall topple every throne. 

Sign it for the world's redemption! All mankind its truth shall own! 

Stars may fall, but truth eternal shall not falter, shall not fail. 

Sign it, and the Declaration shall the voice of ages hail. 


"Sign, and set yon dumb bell ringing, that the people all may know 
Man has found emancipation; sign, the Almighty wills it so." 
Sees one sign it, then another, till like magic moves the pen, 
Till all have signed it, and it lies there, charter of the rights of men. 
Hears the small bells, hears the great bell, hanging idly in the sun, 
Break the silence, and the people whisper, awe-struck, "It is done." 


Then the dream began to vanish burgesses, the war's red flames, 
Charging Tarleton, proud Cornwallis, navies moving on the James, 
Years of peace, and years of glory, all began to melt away, 
And the statesman woke from slumber in the night, and tranquil lay, 
And his lips moved; friends there gathered with love's silken footstep 

And he whispered, softly whispered in love's low and tender ear, 

The Death of Jefferson 223 


"It is the Fourth?" "No, not yet/' they answered, '"but 'twill soon be 

early morn; 

We will wake you, if you slumber, when the day begins to dawn." 
Then the statesman left the present, lived again amid the past, 
Saw, perhaps, the peopled future ope its portals grand and vast, 
Till the flashes of the morning lit the far horizon low, 
And the sun's rays o'er the forests in the east began to glow. 


Rose the sun, and from the woodlands fell the midnight dews like 


In magnolias cool and shady sang the mocking-bird again, 
And the statesman woke from slumber, saw the risen sun, and heard 
Rippling breezes 'mid the oak-trees, and the lattice singing bird, 
And, his eye serene uplifted, as rejoicing in the sun, 
"It is the Fourth?" his only question, to the world his final one. 

Silence fell on Monticello for the last dread hour was near, 
And the old clock's measured ticking only broke upon the ear. 
All the summer rooms were silent, where the great of earth had trod, 
All the summer blooms seemed silent as the messengers of God; 
Silent were the hall and chamber where old councils oft had met, 
Save the far boom of the cannon that recalled the old day yet. 


Silent still is Monticello he is breathing slowly now, 

In the splendors of the noon-tide, with the death-dew on his brow; 

Silent save the clock still ticking where his soul had given birth 

To the mighty thoughts of freedom that should free the fettered earth; 

Silent save the boom of cannon on the sun-filled wave afar, 

Bringing 'mid the peace eternal still the memory of war. 



Evening in majestic shadows fell upon the fortress' walls; 

Sweetly were the last bells ringing on the James and on the Charles. 

'Mid the choruses of freedom two departed victors lay, 

One beside the blue Rivanna, one by Massachusetts Bay. 

He was gone, and night her sable curtain drew across the sky; 

Gone his soul into all nations, gone to live and not to die. 

Jefferson at 62. 


Photograph courtesy of the Library of Congress from C. W. Bowen's "History of the 
Centennial Celebration of the Inauguration of George Washington" 

Jefferson at 75. 


(Replica from the lost original which belonged to Jefferson.) 

Courtesy of Miss Olivia Taylor, Washington., D. C. Photograph by Woltz Studio 



Jefferson had many charms; 

Was democratic; still and yet 

What should one do? The family arms 

On coach and spoon he wisely set 

Against historical alarms: 

For quality not being loath, 

Nor quantity, nor the fame of both. 

From The Sewanee Review, January 1930. Copyright 1930 by The Sewanee 
Review. Reprinted by permission of The Sewanee Review and Allen Tate. 



Once burned his late lamp as a little moon 
Among the dark trees shining. 
His house still stands, a symbol, on this hill, 
The dome sun-white in summer noon, 
Darkened with day declining. 

The hill is vacant and the fields are still- 
Only a slow bird flying. 
Even the earth and air seem empty now 
And only deepening shadows fill 
The woods where crows went crying. 

We shall not have from seasons peace, nor know 

Comfort in red leaves shaking. 

There is but coldness in this chiselled stone. 

No autumn wind will ever blow 

This dust to waking. 

Let the firm hills remember greatness gone, 

And limbs to shrill wind bending. 

When thunder rolled and the great trees were split 

He kept this upper way alone 

Although a world seemed ending. 

From Monticello and Other Poems, by Lawrence Lee. Copyright 1937 by 
Charles Scribner's Sons. Reprinted by permission. 


Monticello 227 


What shall man do for love except create? 
Here once were only the stiff trees shaken 
And not the ear to hear the singing wind 
And not the eye to see how great 
A yellow woods the gale had taken. 

Now the stark winter, howling in blank boughs, 
Screams past the stone, past the body broken. 
Here was the ground where he had set his will 
And in his love had built this house, 
Here moved to act the strong word spoken. 

Another year this hill was full of light, 

This house was wakeful with the living. 

By memory now we must make painful way, 

Wishing less dark on such a night, 

More hope than sounds of storm are giving. 

There is a tempest raging at the world. 

If in these hearths some spark would quicken, 

Some antique candle scatter from the door 

Old light where a new dark is curled 

And all he loved is stricken. . . . 


But you, Thomas Jefferson, 

You could not lie so still, 

You could not bear the weight of stone 

On the quiet hill, 

You could not keep your green grown peace 
Nor hold your folded hand 
If you could see your new world now, 
Your new sweet land. 

There was a time, Tom Jefferson, 

When freedom made free men. 

The new found earth and the new freed mind 

Were brothers then. 

There was a time when tyrants feared 
The new world of the free. 
Now freedom is afraid and shrieks 
At tyranny. 

Words have not changed their sense so soon 
Nor tyranny grown new. 
The truths you held, Tom Jefferson, 
Will still hold true. 

What's changed is freedom in this age. 
What great men dared to choose 
Small men now dare neither win 
Nor lose. 

From Actfive and Other Poems, by Archibald MacLeish. Copyright 1948 by 
Archibald MacLeish. Published by Random House, Inc. Reprinted by permission. 


Brave Neto World 229 

Freedom, when men fear freedom's use 
But love its useful name, 
Has cause and cause enough for fear 
And cause for shame. 

We fought a war in freedom's name 
And won it in our own. 
"We fought to free a world and raised 
A wall of stone. 

Your countrymen who could have built 

The hill fires of the free 

To set the dry world all ablaze 

With liberty 

To burn the brutal thorn in Spain 
Of bigotry and hate 

And the dead lie and the brittle weed 
Beyond the Plate: 

Who could have heaped the bloody straw, 
The dung of time, to light 
The Danube in a sudden flame 
Of hope by night 

Your countrymen who could have hurled 
Their freedom like a brand 
Have cupped it to a candle spark 
In a frightened hand. 

Freedom that was a thing to use 
TheyVe made a thing to save 
And staked it in and fenced it round 
Like a dead man's grave. 

You, Thomas Jefferson, 

You could not lie so still, 

You could not bear the weight of stone 

On your green hill, 


You could not hold your angry tongue 
I you could see how bold 
The old stale bitter world plays new 
And the new world old. 


If vision can dilate, my noble lord, 
Farther than porticos, Italian cells, 
Newtonian gardens, Haydn, and cuisine, 
Tell us, most serious of all our poets, 
Why is the clock so low? 

I see the tender gradient of your will; 
Virginia is the Florence of your soul, 
Yes, ours. The architecture of your hands 
Quiets ambition and revives our skill 
And buys our faithlessness. 

So temperate, so remote, so pure of phrase, 
Your music sweeps a continent, a sphere, 
Fashions a modern language for a war 
And by its cadence makes responsible 
Our million names to you. 

When you were old the god of government 
Seemed to recede a pace, and you were glad. 
You watched the masons through your telescope 
Finish your school of freedom. Death itself 
Stood thoughtful at your bed. 

And now the surfaces of mind are rubbed 
Our essence starts like serum from our eyes. 
How can you not assume the deities 
That move behind the bloodshot look and lean 
Like saints and Salem devils? 

From V-Letter and Other Poems, by K'arl Shapiro. Copyright 1944 by Karl 
Shapiro. Reprinted by permission of Harcourt, Brace and Co, and Karl Shapiro. 







Springfield, III, April 6, 1859 

Gentlemen: Your kind note inviting me to attend a festival in 
Boston, on the 28th instant, in honor of the birthday of Thomas 
Jefferson, was duly received. My engagements are such that I cannot 

Bearing in mind that about seventy years ago two great political 
parties were first formed in this country, that Thomas Jefferson was 
the head of one of them and Boston the headquarters of the other, 
it is both curious and interesting that those supposed to descend 
politically from the party opposed to Jefferson should now be cele- 
brating his birthday in their own original seat of empire, while those 
claiming political descent from him have nearly ceased to breathe 
his name everywhere. 

Remembering, too, that the Jefferson party was formed upon its 

From Abraham Lincoln: Complete Works, Comprising His Speeches, Letters, 
Slate Papers, and Miscellaneous Writings, edited by John G. Nicolay and John 
Hay. New York, 1894. 



supposed superior devotion to the personal rights of men, holding 
the rights of property to be secondary only, and greatly inferior, and 
assuming that the so-called Democracy of to-day are the Jefferson, 
and their opponents the anti- Jefferson, party, it will be equally in- 
teresting to note how completely the two have changed hands as to 
the principle upon which they were originally supposed to be di- 
vided. The Democracy of to-day hold the liberty of one man to be 
absolutely nothing when in conflict with another man's right of 
property; Republicans, on the contrary, are for both the man and 
the dollar, but in case of conflict the man before the dollar. 

I remember being once much amused at seeing two partially in- 
toxicated men engaged in a fight with their great-coats on, which 
fight, after a long and rather harmless contest, ended in each having 
fought himself out of his own coat and into that of the other. If the 
two leading parties of this day are really identical with the two in 
the days of Jefferson and Adams, they have performed the same feat 
as the two drunken men. 

But, soberly, it is now no child's play to save the principles of 
Jefferson from total overthrow in this nation. One would state with 
great confidence that he could convince any sane child that the 
simpler propositions of Euclid are true; but nevertheless he would 
fail, utterly, with one who should deny the definitions and axioms. 
The principles of Jefferson are the definitions and axioms of free 
society. And yet they are denied and evaded, with no small show of 
success. One dashingly calls them "glittering generalities." Another 
bluntly calls them "self-evident lies." And others insidiously argue 
that they apply to "superior races." These expressions, differing in 
form, are identical in object and effect the supplanting the principles 
of free government, and restoring those of classification, caste, and 
legitimacy. They would delight a convention of crowned heads plot- 
ting against the people. They are the vanguard, the miners and sap- 
pers of returning despotism. We must repulse them, or they will sub- 
jugate us. This is a world of compensation; and he who would be no 
slave must consent to have no slave. Those who deny freedom to 
others deserve it not for themselves, and, under a just God, cannot 
long retain it. All honor to Jeff erson to the man who, in the concrete 
pressure of a struggle for national independence by a single people, 
had the coolness, forecast, and capacity to introduce into a merely 
revolutionary document an abstract truth, applicable to all men and 

"The Principles of Jefferson . . . " 237 

all times, and so to embalm it there that to-day and in all coming 
days it shall be a rebuke and a stumbling-block to the very har- 
bingers of reappearing tyranny and oppression. Your obedient 



The circumstances of our day are so utterly different from those of 
Jefferson's day that it may seem nothing less than an act of temerity 
to attempt to say what Jefferson would do if he were now alive and 
guiding us with his vision and command. The world we live in is no 
longer divided into neighbourhoods and communities; the lines of 
the telegraph thread it like nerves uniting a single organism. The 
ends of the earth touch one another and exchange impulse and pur- 
pose. America has swung out of her one-time isolation and has joined 
the family of nations. She is linked to mankind by every tie of blood 
and circumstance. She is more cosmopolitan in her make-up than 
any other nation of the world; is enriched by a greater variety of 
energy drawn from strong peoples the world over. She is not the 
simple, homogeneous, rural nation that she was in Jefferson's time, 
making only a beginning at development and the conquest of for- 
tune; she is great and strong; above all she is infinitely varied; her 
affairs are shot through with emotion and the passion that comes 
with strength and growth and self-confidence. We live in a new and 
strange age and reckon with new affairs alike in economics and poli- 
tics of which Jefferson knew nothing. 

And yet we may remind ourselves that Jefferson's mind did not 
move in a world of narrow circumstances; it did not confine itself to 
the conditions of a single race or a single continent. It had commerce 
with the thought of men old and new; it had moved in an age of 
ample air, in which men thought not only of nations but of mankind, 
in which they saw not only individual policies, but a great field of 
human need and of human fortune. Neither did he think in abstract 
terms, as did the men with whom he had had such stimulating com- 
merce of thought in France. His thought was not speculation; it was 

Part of an Address delivered at the Jefferson Day Banquet, Waldorf-Astoria 
Hotel, New York, April 13, 1912. From The Public Papers of Woodrow Wilson, 
edited by Ray Stannard Baker and William E. Dodd. Copyright 1925 by Edith 
Boiling Wilson. Reprinted by permission of Edith Boiling Wilson. 


What Jefferson Would Do 239 

the large generalization that comes from actual observation and ex- 
perience. He had had contact with plain men of many kinds, as well 
as with philosophers and foreign statesmen. He thought in a way 
that his neighbours in Virginia could understand, in a way which 
illuminated their own lives and ambitions for them. And though he 
was deemed a philosopher, he was nevertheless the idol of the people, 
for he somehow heard and voiced what they themselves could have 
said and purposed and conceived. For all the largeness of his thought, 
it was bathed in an everyday atmosphere; it belongs to the actual, 
workaday world; it has its feet firmly on circumstances and fact and 
the footing all men are accustomed to who reflect at all on their 
lives and the lives of their neighbours and compatriots. He was hold- 
ing up for the illumination of the things of which he spoke a light 
which he had received out of the hands of old philosophers. But the 
rays of that light as he held it fell upon actual American life; they 
did not lose themselves vaguely in space; they were for the guidance 
of men's feet every day. 

We may be sure, therefore, that had Jefferson lived in our time he 
would have acted upon the facts as they are. In the first place, because 
he would have seen them as they actually are, and in the second place 
because he would have been interested in theory only as he could 
adjust it to the reality of the life about him. He would not have been 
content with a philosophy which he could fit together only within 
the walls of his study. 

To determine what Jefferson would have done, therefore, requires 
only that we should ourselves clearly see the facts of our time as they 
are, whether in the field of government or in the field of our economic 
life, and that we should see how Jefferson's principle of the rule and 
authority of the people stands related to tibese facts. We are con- 
stantly quoting Jefferson's fundamental thought: it was that no policy 
could last whose foundation is narrow, based upon the privileges and 
authority of a few, but that its foundations must be as broad as the 
interests of all the men and families and neighbourhoods that live 
under it. Monopoly, private control, the authority of privilege, the 
concealed mastery of a few men cunning enough to rule without 
showing their power he would have at once announced them rank 
weeds which were sure to choke out all wholesome life in the fair 
garden of affairs. If we can detect these things in our time; if we can 
see them and describe them and touch them as they are, then we 


know what Jefferson would have done. He would have moved against 
them, sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly, sometimes openly, 
sometimes subtly; but whether he merely mined about them or struck 
directly at them, he would have set systematic war against them at 
the front of all his purpose. 

As regards the real influences that control our Government, he 
would have asked first of all: Are they determined by the direct and 
open contacts of opinion. He would have found that they were not; 
that, on the contrary, our Government as it has developed has sup- 
plied secret influences with a hundred coverts and ambushes; that 
the opinion of the Nation makes little noise in the committee rooms 
of legislatures; that it is certain large, special interests and not the 
people who maintain the lobby; that the argument of the lobby is 
oftentimes louder and more potent than the argument of the hustings 
and the floor of the representative body. He would have found, 
moreover, that until very recent years opinion had had very difficult 
access, if any at all, in most seasons, of the private conferences in 
which candidates for office were chosen, candidates for both admin- 
istrative and legislative office, and that in the private conferences 
where it was determined who should be nominated and, therefore, 
of course, who should be elected, the same influences had established 
themselves which ruled in the legislative lobby. That money, the 
money that kept the whole organization together., flowed in, not from 
the general body of the people, but from those who wished to de- 
termine in their own private interest what governors and legislators 
should and should not do. 

It is plain in such circumstances that he would have insisted, as 
we are insisting now, that if there could be found no means by 
which the authority and purpose of the people could break into these 
private places and establish their rule again, if the jungle proved too 
thick for the common thought to explore, if the coverts where the 
real power lurked were too difficult to find, the forces of genuine 
democracy must move around them instead of through them, must 
surround and beleaguer them, must establish a force outside of them 
by which they can be dominated or overawed. It is with the discus- 
sion of just such affairs that the public mind is now preoccupied and 
engrossed. Debate is busy with them from one end of the land to 
the other. 
As regards the economic policy of the country it is perfectly plain 

What Jefferson Would Do 241 

that Mr. Jefferson would have insisted upon a tariff fitted to actual 
conditions, by which he would have meant not the interests of the 
few men who find access to the hearings of the Ways and Means Com- 
mittee of the House and the Finance Committee of the Senate, but 
the interests of the business men and manufacturers and farmers and 
workers and professional men of every kind and class. He would have 
insisted that the schedules should be turned wrong side out and 
every item of their contents subjected to the general scrutiny of all 
concerned. It is plain, also, that he would have insisted upon a cur- 
rency system elastic, indeed, and suited to the varying circumstances 
of the money market in a great industrial and trading Nation, but 
absolutely fortified and secured against a central control, the influ- 
ence of coteries, and leagues of banks to which it is now in constant 
danger of being subjected. He would have known that the currency 
question is not only an economic question but a political question, 
and that, above all things else, control must be in the hands of those 
who represent the general interest and not in the hands of those who 
represent the things we are seeking to guard against. 

In the general field of business his thought would, of course, have 
gone about to establish freedom, to throw business opportunity open 
at every point to new men, to destroy the processes of monopoly, to 
exclude the poison of special favours, to see that, whether big or 
little, business was not dominated by anything but the law itself, and 
that that law was made in the interest of plain, unprivileged men 

Jefferson's principles are sources of light because they are not made 
up of pure reason, but spring out of aspiration, impulse, vision, sym- 
pathy. They burn with the fervour of the heart; they wear the light 
of interpretation he sought to speak in, the authentic terms of honest, 
human ambition. And the law in his mind was the guardian of all 
legitimate ambition. It was the great umpire standing by to see that 
the game was honourably and fairly played in the spirit of generous 
rivalry and open the field free to every sportsmanlike contestant. 

Constitutions are not inventions. They do not create our liberty. 
They are rooted in life, in fact, in circumstance, in environment. They 
are not the condition of our liberty but its expression. They result 
from our life; they do not create it. And so there beats in them always, 
if they live at all, this pulse of the large life of humanity. As they yield 
and answer to that they are perfected and exalted. 


Indeed, the whole spirit of government is the spirit of men of 
every kind banded together in a generous combination seeking the 
common good. Nations are exalted, parties are made great as they 
partake of this aspiration and are permitted to see this vision of the 
Nation as a whole struggling toward a common ideal and a common 

We as Democrats are particularly bound at this season of ex- 
pectation, and of confidence to remember that it is only in this spirit 
and with this vision that we can ever serve either the Nation or our- 
selves. As we approach the time when we are to pick out a Pres- 
identfor I believe that it is to be our privilegewe should fix our 
thought on this one great fact, that no man is big enough or great 
enough to be President alone. He will be no stronger than his party. 
His strength will lie in the counsel of his comrades. His success will 
spring out of the union and energy and unselfish cooperation of his 
party, and his party must be more than half the Nation. It must in- 
clude, and genuinely include, men of every class and race and dis- 
position. If he be indeed the representative of his people, there may 
be vouchsafed to him through them something of the vision to con- 
ceive what Jefferson conceived and understood how the vision may 
be carried into reality. 


Thomas Jefferson, of course, did not originate the Bill of Rights. He 
had much to do with its amplification and in securing that it be 
embedded in the Constitution. His flaming insistence in the Declara- 
tion that men "are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable 
rights" had much to do with implanting them in the fibre of American 

Jefferson knew well the centuries of struggle in which men had 
died fighting bitterly for these rights. Step by step they had been 
secured through the Magna Charta, the growth of common law, the 
"Petition of Rights/' and the Declaration of Rights, until they reached 
full flower in the new republic. 

During the first century and a half of our national life we saw no 
serious challenge to the Bill of Rights. We extended them and we 
accepted them as the air we breathed. But for the last quarter of a 
century they have been incessantly attacked both from without and 
within our country. 

In the hurricane of revolutions which have swept the world since 
the Great War, men, struggling with the wreckage and poverty of 
that great catastrophe and the complications of the machine age, 
have in despair surrendered their freedom for false promises of secur- 
ity and glory. Whether it be Fascism, Nazism, Communism, or their 
lesser followers, the result is the same. Every day they repudiate 
every principle of the Bill of Rights. And where they have triumphed 
the first security of men has been lost. 

Theirs is a form of servitude, of slavery a slipping back toward 
the Middle Ages. Whatever these ideologies are, they have one com- 
mon denominator the citizen has no inalienable rights. He is sub- 
merged into the State. Here is the most fundamental clash known to 

From Thomas Jefferson Then and Now, 1743-1943, A "National Symposium, 
edited by James Waterman Wise. Copyright 1943 by Bill of Rights Sesqui- 
Centennial Committee. Reprinted by permission of Herbert Hoover. 



mankind that is, free men and women, cooperating under orderly 
liberty, as contrasted with human beings made pawns of govern- 
ment; men who are slaves of despotism, as against free men who are 
the masters of the State. 

Even in America, where liberty blazed brightest and by its glow 
shed light on all the others, liberty is not only besieged from without 
but it is challenged from within. Many, in honest belief, hold that 
we cannot longer accommodate the growth of science, technology 
and mechanical power to the Bill of Rights. But men's inventions 
cannot be of more value than men themselves. It would be better 
that we sacrifice something of economic efficiency than to surrender 
these primary liberties. In them lies a spiritual growth of men. Behind 
them is the conception which is the highest development of the Chris- 
tian faiththe conception of individual freedom with brotherhood. 
From them is the fullest flowering of individual human personality. 

Those who proclaim that the Machine Age created an irreconcilable 
conflict in which Liberty must be sacrificed should not forget the 
battles for these rights over the centuries, for let it be remembered 
that in the end these are undying principles which spring from the 
souls of men. We imagine conflict not because the principles of lib- 
erty are unworkable in a machine age, but because we have not 
worked them conscientiously or have forgotten their true meaning. 

Neither would sacrifice of these rights add to economic efficiency 
nor would it gain in economic security, or find a single job or give a 
single assurance in old age. The dynamic forces which sustain eco- 
nomic security and progress in human comfort lie deep below the sur- 
face. They reach to those human impulses which are watered alone 
by freedom. The initiative of men, their enterprise, the inspiration of 
thought, flower in full only in the security of these rights. 

And by practical experience under the Bill of Rights we have 
tested this truth. Down through a century and a half this American 
concept of human freedom has enriched the whole world. From the 
release of the spirit, the initiative, the cooperation, and the courage 
of men, which alone comes from these freedoms, has been builded 
this very machine age with all its additions of comfort, its reductions 
of sweat. Wherever in the world the system of individual liberty has 
been sustained, mankind has been better clothed, better fed, better 
housed, has had more leisure. Above all, men and women have had 
more self-respect, They have been more generous and of finer spirit. 

Jefferson and the Bill of Rights 245 

Those who scoff that liberty is of no consequence to the under- 
privileged and the unemployed, are grossly ignorant of the primary 
fact that it is through the creative and the productive impulses of 
free men that the redemption of those sufferers and their economic , 
security must come. Any system which curtails these freedoms and 
stimulants to men destroys the possibility of the full production from 
which economic security alone can come. 

Nor is respect for the Bill of Rights a fetter upon progress. It has 
been no dead hand that has carried the living principle of liberty 
over these centuries. Without violation of these principles and their 
safeguards we have amended the Constitution many times in the past 
century to meet the problems of growing civilization. We will no 
doubt do so many times again. New inventions and new ideas require 
the constant remolding of our civilization. The functions of govern- 
ment must be readjusted from time to time to restrain the strong and 
protect the weak. That is the preservation of liberty itself. 

Jefferson was eternally right when he held that liberty comes only 
and lives only where the hard-won rights of men are held inalienable, 
where governments themselves may not infringe, where governments 
are indeed but the mechanisms to protect and sustain these prin- 
ciples. It was this concept for which America's sons have died on a 
hundred battlefields. 

The purification of liberty from abuses, the restoration of confi- 
dence in the rights of men, from which come the release of the 
dynamic forces of advancing spirit and enterprise, are alone the 
methods through which the purpose of American life can be assured. 



April 13, 1943 

Today, in the midst of a great war for freedom., we dedicate a shrine 
to freedom. 

To Thomas Jefferson, Apostle of Freedom, we are paying a debt 
long overdue. 

Yet, there are reasons for gratitude that this occasion falls within 
our time; for our generation of Americans can understand much in 
Jefferson's life which intervening generations could not see as well 
as we. 

He faced the fact that men who will not fight for liberty can lose 
it. We, too, have faced that fact. 

He lived in a world in which freedom of conscience and freedom 
of mind were battles still to be fought through not principles already 
accepted of all men. We, too, have lived in such a world. 

He loved peace and loved liberty yet on more than one occasion 
he was forced to choose between them. We, too, have been compelled 
to make that choice. 

Generations which understand each other across the distances of 
history are the generations united by a common experience and a 
common cause. Jefferson, across a hundred and fifty years of time, 
is closer by much to living men than many of our leaders of the years 
between. His cause was a cause to which we also are committed, not 
by our words alone but by our sacrifice. 

From The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, compiled 
by Samuel 1. Rosenman. 1943 Volume. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1950. 


"A Debt Long Overdue . . ." 247 

For faith and ideals imply renunciations. Spiritual advancement 
throughout all our history has called for temporal sacrifices. 

The Declaration of Independence and the very purpose of the 
American Revolution itself, while seeking freedoms, called for the 
abandonment of privileges. 

Jefferson was no dreamer for half a century he led his State and 
his Nation in fact and in deed. I like to think that this was so because 
he thought in terms of the morrow as well as the day and this was 
why he was hated or feared by those who thought in terms of the day 
and the yesterday. 

We judge him by the application of his philosophy to the circum- 
stances of his life. But in such applying we come to understand that 
his life was given for those deeper values that persist throughout all 

Leader in the philosophy of government, in education, in the arts, 
in efforts to lighten the toil of mankind exponent of planning for 
the future, he led the steps of America into the path of the perma- 
nent integrity of the Republic. 

Thomas Jefferson believed, as we believe, in Man. He believed, as 
we believe, that men are capable of their own government, and that 
no king, no tyrant, no dictator can govern for them as well as they 
can govern for themselves. 

He believed, as we believe, in certain inalienable rights. He, as 
we, saw those principles and freedoms challenged. He fought for 
them, as we fight for them. 

He proved that the seeming eclipse of liberty can well become the 
dawn of more liberty. Those who fight the tyranny of our own time 
will come to learn that old lesson. Among all the peoples of the earth, 
the cruelties and the oppressions of its would-be masters have taught 
this generation what its liberties can mean. This lesson, so bitterly 
learned, will never be forgotten while this generation is still alive. 

The words which we have chosen for this Memorial speak Jeffer- 
son's noblest and most urgent meaning; and we are proud indeed to 
understand it and share it: 

"I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every 
form of tyranny over the mind of man." 






The peculiar character of the mind of Jefferson was its entire original- 
ity. There was nothing feeble nor ordinary in the structure of that 
intellect which, rejecting the common-places which pass, only be- 
cause they go unchallenged, through the world and seeking for truth 
rather in nature than in received opinions, examined for itself, 
thought for itself, and yielded its convictions only to reason. This 
temper was nourished by the severe studies which disciplined his 
youth, and confirmed by the indulgence in retirement of those deep 
and lonely moods of thought by which the noblest powers of the 
mind are nursed. In any country and at any time these powers would 
have rendered him distinguished; but while their direction was yet 
undetermined, the great conflict, which has occupied the last half 
century, between institutions and men, between the human race for 
freedom on one side and a few individuals for privileges on the other, 
found him on the verge of manhood, and awakened that impassioned 
devotion to freedom which shed its hues over all the studies and 
actions of his life. Among his contemporaries no one was more early 
or more deeply imbued with the spirit of his age, and few have 
contributed more to its diffusion. The youngest among the leaders 
of the revolution and at last almost the only survivor of them, he 

From Eulogiwn on Thomas Jefferson, delivered before The American Philo- 
sophical Society, on the eleventh day of April 1827. By Nicholas Biddle. Pub- 
lished at the request of the Society. Philadelphia, 1827. 



stood between two generations, and his free opinions which had 
startled the first race as hazardous innovations became during his life 
established truths among their posterity. This combination of an orig- 
inal mind impelled equally by the love of science and the love of 
freedom best reveals the true character of Jefferson and will best 
explain his whole history. 

It is the first glory of his life, to have been one of the founders of a 
great and free empire, undoubtedly among the most distinguished 
events in the history of mankind. It was not, like the beginning of the 
Roman domination., a fellowship of outlaws, commenced in pillage 
and cemented by fratricidenor yet the establishment of the obscure 
dynasties and the village empires of most of the ancient legislators; 
but it was the deliberate achievement of the proudest spirits of their 
age, who, in the eye of the world and at their own imminent hazard, 
built up the loftiest temple of free government ever reared among 
men. On its fairest column, among the companions of him 'who had 
no equal, is inscribed the name of Jefferson. From out that temple, 
this country, the young mother of nations, has poured forth her lan- 
guage, and her institutions, to cultivate and to bless the new world. 
The unnumbered people, the thronged empires which will hereafter 
fill these happy regions, will in the fulness of their prosperity turn 
with filial reverence to those ancestors who laid the deep foundations 
of their freedom ; and eminently to him who drew its great charter. 
The fame of that instrument may yet survive the freedom it pro- 
claimed. But even in the decay and overthrow of this country the 
pilgrim strangers from the remotest lands of this many-nationed con- 
tinent, who may trace back to its source in these desolate places the 
stream of their own greatness, shall still find in the eternal freshness 
of the fountains of freedom the memory of Jefferson. 

It is scarcely less glorious that even among his own great associates 
he was distinguished by being at once a scholar and a statesman. If, 
as is unquestionable, among all the intellectual pursuits, the master 
science is that of government, in the hierarchy of human nature the 
first place must be conceded to those gifted spirits who after devoting 
their youth to liberal studies are attracted to the public service and 
attain its highest honours, shedding over their course the light of that 
pure moral and intellectual cultivation which at once illustrates them 
and adorns their country. It is thus that philosophy best fulfils her 
destiny, when coming from her seclusion into the arena of life she 

''Proud Consolation That Such A Man Has Lived" 253 

shares and leads in defending the cause of truth and freedom. This 
is not easy: for many who were conspicuous in retirement have failed 
in action, over burthened by their preparation, as men sink under the 
weight of their own armour. But to succeed to combine the knowl- 
edge of the schools and of the worldto be learned in books and 
things and yet able to govern men, to deserve that most illustrious 
of all names a philosophical statesman; this is at once the highest 
benefit which study can bestow on the world and the noblest reward 
which the world can confer on learning. This was the singular merit 
of Jefferson. "The whole of my life/' said he to a friend, <f has been at 
war with my natural tastes, feelings, and wishes. Domestic life and 
literary pursuits were rny first and latest desire. Circumstances have 
led me along the path I have trodden, and like a bow long bent I 
resume with delight the character and pursuits for which nature 
designed me." Yet the influence of these tastes over his whole career 
was equally obvious and beneficial. It is this exhaustless love of study 
which enables the finer intellects to sustain the burthen of public 
duties, to resist the encroachments of that selfishness, and to over- 
come that disgust, which intense devotion to the business of the world 
is too prone to inspire. From that outer scene of contention with 
the passions and interests of others their retreat is to the fountain 
within, calming by its repose and freshening with its coolness the 
overstrained energy of the mind. Such was the attachment of Jeffer- 
son to these pursuits, that in the course of his long and active life 
there were few departments of learning which his inquisitive mind 
had not explored. Of law, not merely its technical forms, but the spirit 
of jurisprudence, the author of the revised code of Virginia proved 
himself a master; and of his intimacy with that circle of knowledge 
which ministers to legislation and to international law, his successful 
execution of all the duties of a member of many legislative bodies, a 
minister, and a secretary of state, is the best testimony. The ample 
volume of ancient history and ancient languages, of modern history 
and modern languages, was equally familiar to him. Mathematics, 
chemistry, astronomy, natural history, and natural philosophy, as well 
as the mechanic arts, were favourite pursuits, gracefully relieved by 
the studies of architecture and music: and all were connected and 
embellished by a wide range of miscellaneous literature. A greater 
mass of knowledge has often been accumulated by solitary students, 
and deeper researches have been doubtless made in all these sciences 


than consisted with the labours o an active statesman. But their pre- 
vailing charm lay in their perfect harmony with his social duties. They 
never obtruded, never out-grew their subordination to his public 
character, to which they imparted at once the strength of knowledge 
and the lustre of reputation. In a mind so vigorous they produced 
their natural fruits perfect independence and simplicity. It is a truth 
of universal application, that they who are proud of their places 
confess their inferiority to them, and that the only true independence 
is the personal pride which is conscious that no position can exalt or 
humiliate it, and that in all times and under all circumstances the man 
predominates over the station. Jefferson accordingly felt that there 
are in the world much higher elevations than offices and far more 
alluring occupations than the struggles of political parties. He there- 
fore neither sought nor shunned official stations, occupying them 
when they were voluntarily tendered but leaving them as willingly, 
and always communicating more distinction than he derived from 
them. But having assumed, he filled them, perfectly and devotedly. 
Such indeed was the disciplined industry of his versatile mind, that 
after discharging all the duties of his station with a precision which 
the most laborious dulness might envy, his elastic spirit resumed his 
studies with fresh ardour or escaped to the charms of that social 
intercourse which he knew so well how to enjoy and adorn. He en- 
joyed and adorned it the more, because he carried in to it that which 
in men, as in things, marks the last stage of refinemententire sim- 
plicity. Too strong to need concealment and too proud to descend 
to those artifices of dignity by which little minds dexterously veil 
their weaknesses, he was distinguished by the frankness and boldness 
with which all his thoughts were breathed to those around him and 
for the unaffected simplicity of his manners. Even on that bleak 
eminence the presidency of his country, he was still only its first 
citizen, blending with admirable grace the simple dignity of a grave 
ruler with the varied acquirements of philosophy and the frank and 
cordial affability of a gentleman. 

His writings are all imbued by the same spirit. The declaration of 
independence, the revised code, the Notes on Virginia, like the va- 
rious reforms which he executed or meditated, are the joint efforts of 
that originality which led the way in every advance towards improve- 
ment, of the learning by which they were defended, and of the honest 
enthusiasm for freedom which nothing could dispirit nor subdue. 

"Proud Consolation That Such A Man Has Lived" 255 

His very style partook of that character. Its felicity consisted in 
the freshness and originality of its expression and the terse form into 
which his strength of thought was compressed. There might be dis- 
covered, by a critical eye, some tendency towards new shades of 
expression as well as of thought, and something too of that tinge of 
gallicism imputed to Hume and Gibbon as the result of their resi- 
dence abroad. But the general mould of his style was formed at 
an early age before he left America, and preserved its peculiarity 
through life. His correspondence was particularly attractive, combin- 
ing the natural graces of manner with the rich materials of thought 
and presenting in an endless variety the vivacity and the captivating 
unreserve which form the charm of epistolary writing. That however 
which we may most usefully imitate is its conciseness. It would be 
a signal addition even to his services, if his example could wean us 
from that fatal love of words, that declamatory profusion, by which 
all the real business of life is oppressed and which threaten to confine 
the knowledge of our public affairs to those only who possess diligent 

The same temper accompanied him to his highest station, and ren- 
dered him a bold and fearless chief magistrate, qualities singularly 
valuable in this country. The tendency and the danger of other 
governments is subserviency to courts, that of ours is submission to 
popular excitement, which statesmen should often rather repress 
than obey. Undoubtedly the public councils should reflect the public 
sentiment; but that mirror may be dimmed by being too closely 
breathed on, nor can all the other qualities of a public man ever 
supply the want of personal independence. It is that fatal want which 
renders so many ostensible leaders in fact only followers, which 
makes so many who might have been statesmen degenerate into 
politicians, and tends to people the country with the slaves and the 
victims of that mysterious fascination, the love of popularity. Jeffer- 
son felt himself strong in his own originality. His administration was 
a conflict between those who had gained the power from which they 
had deemed themselves proscribed and those who, outnumbered yet 
not vanquished, yielded with a stubborn resistance the heights from 
which they were descending. But the self possessed and balanced 
mind of the leader bore him proudly through the struggle. His com- 
manding spirit restrained the ardour of his followers, and even in the 
flush of victory his triumph was stained by no excesses. But the mild- 


est use of authority is obnoxious to reproach, and as the want of pow- 
er to persecute each other for religion has driven all our fanaticism 
into politics the enmities against him were so embittered as to form 
almost a reproach on our nature, were it not redeemed by the reflec- 
tion that he outlived all these calumnies till even the most violent of 
his enemies were subdued into admiration of him. It was indeed a 
rare example of magnanimity to see this magistrate, the perpetual 
object of scorn and obloquy, content with the consciousness of its 
injustice, and never tempted to employ his influence or the power of 
the law to suppress it, satisfied to use his own happy expression, that 
"error of opinion may be safely tolerated where reason is left free to 
combat it." He did wisely in this. The press in our country, like the 
monitor in the Roman triumph who stood beside the victor to guard 
him against the illusions of prosperity, is privileged to pour its warn- 
ings into the ear of successful ambition; and its rough licence may 
well be borne as the price of freedom, and the tax on distinction. 

But, whatever might be deemed of the measures of his administra- 
tion, the accomplishments requisite for his station could not be 
denied to him. The chief magistracy of this country, the highest 
political elevation to which any private man can now aspire without 
crime or revolution that reward of ambition whose temptations 
allure so many and should make us forgive so much, may be not 
ingloriously administered by fortunate mediocrity, if it be content 
meekly to inscribe its name on our political olympiads. But when the 
man adorns the station when its powers are nobly exercised and its 
honours gracefully worn, he may not yield in dignity of place to any 
whom the accidents of birth or fortune have raised to supreme author- 
ity. In the bearings of his personal character, Jefferson can be safely 
compared with the contemporary rulers of nations, not excepting 
him the greatest of them all; nor need our patriotism shrink from the 
singular contrast between two men, chiefs for nearly an equal period 
of their respective countries, and models of their different species, 
Napoleon, the emperor of a great nation and Jefferson, the chief 
magistrate of a free people. 

Of that extraordinary being it is fit to speak with the gentleness due 
to misfortune. Two centuries have scarce sufficed to retrieve the fame 
of Cromwell from that least expiable of crimes his success over a 
feeble and profligate race, more fortunate in their historian than their 
history: and the memory of Napoleon must long atone equally for his 

Jefferson at 78. 


("From Jefferson 1821. Finished 1830. T. S.") 
Courtesy of the American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia 

Jefferson at 82. 

Courtesy of the Neiu York Slate Historical Association, Cooperstown, New York 

"Proud Consolation That Such A Man Has Lived 9 ' 257 

elevation and his reverses. There are already those who disparage 
his genius, as if this were not to humble the nations who stood dis- 
mayed before it. Great talents, varied acquirements, many high qual- 
ities, enlightened views of legislation and domestic policy, it were 
bigotry to deny to Napoleon. The very tide of his conquests over less 
civilized nations, deposited in receding some benefits even to the 
vanquished and all that glory can contribute to public happiness, 
was profusely lavished on his country. But in the midst of this gaudy 
infatuation there was that which disenchanted the spell that which 
struck its damp chill into the heart of any man who, undazzled by 
the vulgar decorations of power, looked only at the blessings it might 
confer, and who weighed, instead of counting, these victories. Such 
are the delusions which military ambition sheds in turn on its posses- 
sor and on the world, that its triumphs begin with the thoughtless 
applause of its future victims, and end in the maddening intoxication 
of its own prosperity. We may not wonder then if, when those who 
should have first resisted his powers were foremost in admiration and 
servility when the whole continent of Europe was one submissive 
dependence on his will when among the crowd of native and stran- 
ger suppliants who worshipped before this idol there was only one 
manly and independent voice to rebuke his excesses in a tone worthy 
of a free people that of the representative of Jefferson, we may not 
wonder if all the brilliant qualities which distinguished the youth of 
Napoleon were at last concentered into a spirit of intense selfishness, 
and that the whole purpose to which his splendid genius was per- 
verted was the poor love of swaying the destinies of other men not 
to benefit, not to bless but simply to command them, to engross every 
thing, to be every thing. It was for this that he disturbed the earth 
with his insane conquests, for this that the whole freedom of the 
human mind the elastic vigour of the intellect all the natural play 
of the human feelings all free agency, were crushed beneath this 
fierce and immitigable dominion, which, degrading the human race 
into the mere objects and instruments of slaughter, would soon have 
left nothing to science but to contrive the means of mutual destruc- 
tion, and nothing to letters except to flatter the common destroyer. 
Contrast this feverish restlessness which is called ambition this ex- 
panded love of violence which makes heroes contrast these, as they 
shone in the turbulent existence of Napoleon, with the peaceful dis- 
interested career of Jefferson: and in all the relations of their power 


its nature, its employment, and its result we may assign the super- 
iority to the civil magistrate. 

Napoleon owed his elevation to military violenceJefferson to the 
voluntary suffrage of his country. The one ruled sternly over reluc- 
tant subjects the other was but the foremost among his equals who 
respected in his person the image of their own authority. Napoleon 
sought to enlarge his influence at home by enfeebling all the civil 
institutions, and abroad by invading the possessions of his neigh- 
boursJefferson preferred to abridge his power by strict construc- 
tions, and his counsels were uniformly dissuasive against foreign 
wars. Yet the personal influence of Jefferson was far more enviable, 
for he enjoyed the unlimited confidence of his coxintry while Napo- 
leon had no authority not conceded by fear; and the extortions of 
force are evil substitutes for that most fascinating of all sway the 
ascendancy over equals. During the undisputed possession of that 
power, Napoleon seemed unconscious of its noblest attribute, the 
capacity to make men freer or happier; and no one great or lofty 
purpose of benefiting mankind, no generous sympathy for his race, 
ever disturbed that sepulchral selfishness, or appeased that scorn of 
humanity, which his successes almost justified But the life of Jeffer- 
son was a perpetual devotion, not to his own purposes, but to the 
pure and noble cause of public freedom. From the first dawning of 
his youth his undivided heart was given to the establishment of free 
principles free institutions freedom in all its varieties of untram- 
melled thought and independent action. His whole life was conse- 
crated to the improvement and happiness of his fellow men; and his 
intense enthusiasm for knowledge and freedom was sustained to his 
dying hour. Their career was as strangely different in its close as in 
its character. The power of Napoleon was won by the sword main- 
tained by the sword lost by the sword. The colossal empire which 
he had exhausted fortune in rearing broke before the first shock of 
adversity. The most magnificently gorgeous of all the pageants of our 
times when the august ceremonies of religion blessed and crowned 
that soldier-emperor, when the allegiance of the great captains who 
stood by his side, the applauses of assembled France in the presence 
of assenting Europe, the splendid pomp of war softened by the smiles 
of beauty, and all the decorations of all the arts, blended their 
enchantments as that imperial train swept up the aisles of Notre 
Dame faded into the silent cabin of that lone island in a distant sea. 

"Proud Consolation That Such A Man Has Lived" 259 

The hundred thousands of soldiers who obeyed his voice the will 
which made the destiny of men the name whose humblest possessor 
might be a king all shrunk into the feeble band who followed the 
captivity of their master. Of all his foreign triumphs not one remained, 
and in his first military conquest his own country, which he had 
adorned with the monuments of his fame, there is now no place even 
for the tomb of this desolate exile. But the glory of Jefferson became 
even purer as the progress of years mellowed into 'veneration the 
love of his countrymen. He died in the midst of the free people whom 
he had lived to serve; and his only ceremonial, worthy equally of him 
and of them, was the simple sublimity of his funeral triumph. His 
power he retained as long as he desired it, and then voluntarily re- 
stored the trust, with a permanent additionderived from Napoleon 
himself far exceeding the widest limits of the French empire that 
victory of peace which outweighs all the conquests of Napoleon, as 
one line of the declaration of independence is worth all his glory. 

But he also is now gone. The genius, the various learning, the 
private virtues, the public honours, which illustrated and endeared 
his name, are gathered into the tomb, leaving to him only the fame, 
and to us only the remembrance, of them. Be that memory cherished 
without regret or sorrow. Our affection could hope nothing better for 
him than this long career of glorious and happy usefulness, closed 
before the infirmities of age had impaired its lustre; and the grief that 
such a man is dead, may be well assuaged by the proud consolation 
that such a man has lived. 




Holly Lodge, Kensington, 
London, May 23, 1857. 
Dear Sir, 

The four volumes of the Colonial History of New York reached me 
safely. I assure you that I shall value them highly. They contain much 
to interest an English as well as an American reader. Pray accept my 
thanks, and convey them to the Regents of the University. 

You are surprised to learn that I have not a high opinion of Mr. 
Jefferson, and I am a little surprised at your surprise. I am certain 
that I never wrote a line, and that I never, in Parliament, in con- 
versation, or even on the hustings, a place where it is the fashion to 
court the populace, uttered a word indicating an opinion that the 
supreme authority in a state ought to be intrusted to the majority of 
citizens told by the head, in other words, to the poorest and most 
ignorant part of society. I have long been convinced that institutions 
purely democratic must, sooner or later, destroy liberty, or civilisa- 
tion, or both. In Europe, where the population is dense, the effect of 
such institutions would be almost instantaneous. What happened 
lately in France is an example. In 1848 a pure democracy was estab- 

From "What Did Macaulay Say About America?" by H. M. Lydenberg, in 
Bulletin of the New York Public Library, Volume 29, Number 7, July 1925. 


"I Cannot Reckon Jefferson . . /* 261 

lished there. During a short time there was reason to expect a general 
spoliation, a national bankruptcy, a new partition of the soil, a maxi- 
mum of prices, a ruinous load of taxation laid on the rich for the 
purpose of supporting the poor in idleness. Such a system would, in 
twenty years, have made France as poor and barbarous as the France 
of the Carlovingians. Happily the danger was averted; and now there 
is a despotism, a silent tribune, an enslaved press. Liberty is gone, 
but civilisation has been saved. I have not the smallest doubt that, if 
we had a purely democratic government here, the effect would be 
the same. Either the poor would plunder the rich, and civilisation 
would perish, or order and property would be saved by a strong 
military government, and liberty would perish. You may think that 
your country enjoys an exemption from these evils. I will frankly 
own to you that I am of a very different opinion. Your fate I believe 
to be certain, though it is deferred by a physical cause. As long as you 
have a boundless extent of fertile and unoccupied land, your labour- 
ing population will be far more at ease than the labouring popula- 
tion of the old world; and, while that is the case, the Jeffersonian 
polity may continue to exist without causing any fatal calamity. But 
the time will come when New England will be as thickly peopled as 
old England. Wages will be as low, and will fluctuate as much with 
you as with us. You will have your Manchesters and Birminghams, 
and in those Manchesters and Birminghams, hundreds of thousands 
of artisans will assuredly be sometimes out of work. Then your insti- 
tutions will be fairly brought to the test. Distress every where makes 
the labourer mutinous and discontented, and inclines him to listen 
with eagerness to agitators who tell him that it is a monstrous iniquity 
that one man should have a million while another cannot get a full 
meal. In bad years there is plenty of grumbling here, and sometimes 
a little rioting. But it matters little. For here the sufferers are not the 
rulers. The supreme power is in the hands of a class, numerous in- 
deed, but select; of an educated class, of a class which is, and knows 
itself to be, deeply interested in the security of property and the 
maintenance of order. Accordingly, the malcontents are firmly, yet 
gently, restrained. The bad time is got over without robbing the 
wealthy to relieve the indigent. The springs of national prosperity 
soon begin to flow again: work is plentiful: wages rise; and all is 
tranquillity and cheerfulness. I have seen England pass three or four 
times through such critical seasons as I have described. Through such 


seasons the United States will have to pass, in the course of the next 
century, if not of this. How will you pass through them. I heartily 
wish you a good deliverance. But my reason and my wishes are at 
war; and I cannot help foreboding the worst. It is quite plain that 
your government will never be able to restrain a distressed and dis- 
contented majority. For with you the majority is the government, and 
has the rich, who are always a minority, absolutely at its mercy. The 
day will come when, in the State of New York, a multitude of people, 
none of whom has had more than half a breakfast, or expects to have 
more than half a dinner, will choose a Legislature. Is it possible to 
doubt what sort of a Legislature will be chosen? On one side is a 
statesman preaching patience, respect for vested rights, strict ob- 
servance of public faith. On the other is a demagogue ranting about 
the tyranny of capitalists and usurers, and asking why anybody 
should be permitted to drink Champagne and to ride in a carriage, 
while thousands of honest folks are in want of necessaries. Which 
of the two candidates is likely to be preferred by a working man who 
hears his children cry for more bread? I seriously apprehend that 
you will, in some such season of adversity as I have described, do 
things which will prevent prosperity from returning; that you will 
act like people who should in a year of scarcity, devour all the seed 
corn, and thus make the next year a year, not of scarcity, but of 
absolute famine. There will be, I fear, spoliation. The spoliation will 
increase the distress. The distress will produce fresh spoliation. There 
is nothing to stop you. Your Constitution is all sail and no anchor. 
As I said before, when a society has entered on this downward 
progress, either civilisation or liberty must perish. Either some 
Caesar or Napoleon will seize the reins of government with a strong 
hand; or your republic will be as fearfully plundered and laid waste 
by barbarians in the twentieth Century as the Roman Empire was 
in the fifth; with this difference, that the Huns and Vandals who 
ravaged the Roman Empire came from without, and that your Huns 
and Vandals will have been engendered within your own by your 
own institutions. 

Thinking thus, of course, I cannot reckon Jefferson among the 
benefactors of mankind. I readily admit that his intentions were 
good and his abilities considerable. Odious stories have been cir- 
culated about his private life; but I do not know on what evidence 
those stories rest; and I think it probable that they are false, or 

"I Cannot Reckon Jefferson . . ." 263 

monstrously exaggerated. I have no doubt that I shall derive both 
pleasure and information from your account of him. 
I have the honor to be, dear Sir, your faithful servant, 

H. S. Randall, Esq., etc., etc., etc. 


. . . According to the admitted standards of greatness, Jefferson was 
a great man. After all deductions on which his enemies might choose 
to insist, his character could not be denied elevation, versatility, 
breadth, insight, and delicacy; but neither as a politician nor as a 
political philosopher did he seem at ease in the atmosphere which 
surrounded him. As a leader of democracy he appeared singularly 
out of place. As reserved as President Washington in the face of 
popular familiarities, he never showed himself in crowds. During the 
last thirty years of his life he was not seen in a Northern city, even 
during his Presidency; nor indeed was he seen at all except on horse- 
back, or by his friends and visitors in his own house. With manners 
apparently popular and informal, he led a life of his own, and allowed 
few persons to share it. His tastes were for that day excessively re- 
fined. His instincts were those of a liberal European nobleman, like 
the Due de Liancourt, and he built for himself at Monticello a chateau 
above contact with man. The rawness of political life was an incessant 
torture to him, and personal attacks made him keenly unhappy. His 
true delight was in an intellectual life of science and art. To read, 
write, speculate in new lines of thought, to keep abreast of the intel- 
lect of Europe, and to feed upon Homer and Horace, were pleasures 
more to his mind than any to be found in a public assembly. He had 
some knowledge of mathematics, and a little acquaintance with 
classical art; but he fairly revelled in what he believed to be beauti- 
ful, and his writings often betrayed subtile feeling for artistic form, 
a sure mark of intellectual sensuousness. He shrank from whatever 
was rough or coarse, and his yearning for sympathy was almost 
feminine. That such a man should have ventured upon the stormy 
ocean of politics was surprising, the more because he was no orator, 

From History of the United States of America During the First Administra- 
tion of Thomas Jefferson, by Henry Adams. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 
1889. Volume I. 


"After All Deductions . . ." 265 

and owed nothing to any magnetic influence of voice or person. Never 
effective in debate, for seventeen years before his Presidency he had 
not appeared in a legislative body except in the chair of the Senate. 
He felt a nervous horror for the contentiousness of such assemblies, 
and even among his own friends he sometimes abandoned for the 
moment his strongest convictions rather than support them by an 
effort of authority. 

If Jefferson appeared ill at ease in the position of a popular leader, 
he seemed equally awkward in the intellectual restraints of his own 
political principles. His mind shared little in common with the pro- 
vincialism on which the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions were 
founded. His instincts led him to widen rather than to narrow the 
bounds of every intellectual exercise; and if vested with political 
authority, he could no more resist the temptation to stretch his 
powers than he could abstain from using his mind on any subject 
merely because he might be drawn upon ground supposed to be 
dangerous. He was a deist, believing that men could manage their 
own salvation without the help of a state church. Prone to innova- 
tion, he sometimes generalized without careful analysis. He was a 
theorist, prepared to risk the fate of mankind on the chance of reason- 
ing far from certain in its details. His temperament was sunny and 
sanguine, and the atrabilious philosophy of New England was in- 
tolerable to him. He was curiously vulnerable, for he seldom wrote 
a page without exposing himself to attack. He was superficial in his 
knowledge, and a martyr to the disease of omniscience. Ridicule of 
his opinions and of himself was an easy task, in which his Federalist 
opponents delighted, for his English was often confused, his asser- 
tions inaccurate, and at times of excitement he was apt to talk with 
indiscretion; while with all his extraordinary versatility of character 
and opinions, he seemed during his entire life to breathe with per- 
fect satisfaction nowhere except in the liberal, literary, and scientific 
air of Paris in 1789. 

Jefferson aspired beyond the ambition of a nationality, and em- 
braced in his view the whole future of man. That the United States 
should become a nation like France, England, or Russia, should 
conquer the world like Rome, or develop a typical race like the 
Chinese, was no part of his scheme. He wished to begin a new era. 
Hoping for a time when the world's ruling interests should cease to 
be local and should become universal; when questions of boundary 


and nationality should become insignificant; when armies and navies 
should be reduced to the work of police, and politics should consist 
only in non-intervention; he set himself to the task of governing, 
with this golden age in view. Few men have dared to legislate as 
though eternal peace were at hand, in a world torn by wars and con- 
vulsions and drowned in blood; but this was what Jefferson aspired 
to do. Even in such dangers, he believed that Americans might safely 
set an example which the Christian world should be led by interest 
to respect and at length imitate. As he conceived a true American 
policy, war was a blunder, an unnecessary risk; and even in case of 
robbery and aggression the United States, he believed, had only to 
stand on the defensive in order to obtain justice in the end. He would 
not consent to build up a new nationality merely to create more 
navies and armies, to perpetuate the crimes and follies of Europe; 
the central government at Washington should not be permitted to 
indulge in the miserable ambitions that had made the Old World a 
hell, and frustrated the hopes of humanity. 



In late October, 1789, the year that revolution broke out in France 
and George Washington was inaugurated as president in the United 
States, a little American party embarked in the port of Cowes, Eng- 
land. The vessel was the Clermont, of 230 tons, and she was bound 
for Norfolk, The party consisted of the American Minister to France, 
Thomas Jefferson, now on furlough for a visit home; his daughters 
Martha and Maria (familiarly known as Patsy and Polly); two 
servants; and a shepherd bitch "big with pups." Jefferson had bought 
the dog at Havre, while waiting for a boat to cross the boisterous 
Channel, and she produced two puppies on the high seas. Otherwise, 
the voyage was almost without incident 

Some of the American captains detained at Cowes had predicted a 
nine weeks' passage, but the Clermont was only twenty-six days from 
land to land. After she weighed anchor at Yarmouth she soon got clear 
of fogs and had favorable winds until she neared the Virginia capes, 
while Jefferson and his little party, her only passengers, enjoyed the 
finest of autumn weather. Their seasickness was severe for a time 
but did not last long, and at the end he congratulated himself that 
he had crossed the Atlantic twice without running into anything that 
could be called a storm. He kept a simpler log than on his earlier 
voyage, he was not studying Spanish now, and he could have had 
little adult conversation with Captain Colley, a native of Norfolk 
and "a bold and judicious seaman." Patsy and Polly occupied much 
of his time no doubt, and after a while he could observe his new 
shepherd pups, but he probably spent many hours reminiscing. 

From Jefferson and the Rights of Man, Volume Two of Jefferson and His 
Time, by Dumas Malone. Published by Little, Brown and Company. Copyright 
1951 by Dumas Malone. Reprinted by permission of Dumas Malone; Little, 
Brown and Company; and the Virginia Quarterly Review, in which the present 
text, edited to stand alone, was published. 



Surely he must have realized that he was leaving the Old World, 
after more than five years of honorable and devoted service, with an 
enormously enriched experience. If he had been a novice in diplo- 
macy to begin with, this colleague of Franklin and John Adams who 
had talked with Vergennes and Montmorin and been snubbed by 
George III was one no longer. "I feel a degree of familiarity with the 
duties of my present office," he was soon to write to President Wash- 
ington, and it was to those duties that he expected shortly to return, 
little dreaming of the lengthy part he was to play in the conduct of 
the foreign policy of the United States before he quitted the public 
stage. Since he anticipated no such career as he afterwards had as 
secretary of state and president, "he could not have been expected to 
congratulate himself on his magnificent preparation for it, but the 
historian is in position to congratulate his country. 

He himself thought of his international experience as no mere 
preparation for a particular sort of statecraft. Since it was a part of 
life he valued it for its own sake, and its significance extended far 
beyond technical diplomacy. He was more than a technician, more 
than a statesman as we ordinarily use the term. His was an om- 
nivorous and highly sensitized mind and he had lived in a cockpit of 
ideas and world seat of culture. It is true that he did not need to go 
to Europe to get into the current of liberal thought which fertilized 
the reform movements of his age, for he had already done that before 
he wrote the Declaration of Independence. But he had found new 
and highly stimulating friends of light and liberty in the Old World 
and had become even more conscious of his membership in a noble 
international brotherhood. In certain respects it was an incongruous 
companyincluding as it did Condorcet, La Rochefoucauld, and 
Lafayette, along with Dr. Richard Price of England and Thomas 
Paineand he was not in agreement with all its members at all 
points, but no one was quicker than he to perceive kinship of the 
spirit. With all his statesmanlike reservations, the revolution which 
had recently begun in France appeared to him the triumph of en- 
lightened liberalism; and as he read his books afterwards and wrote 
to his friends he nourished in his own breast the sacred fire. His cor- 
respondence lagged in later years as terror increased at home and 
abroad, as friends of yesterday were engulfed in a revolution that 
lost its philosophical direction. But his ties with kindred European 
minds and spirits were never broken, and, both in Europe and Amer- 

The Return of a Virginian 269 

ica, he became a more conspicuous symbol of enlightened liberalism 
and the rights of man after the Revolution than he had ever been 
before. He could not have anticipated this as the Clermont sailed 
homeward, but he must have reflected that a bright chapter had 
been written in the story of his expanding thoughts and hopes, and 
have assured himself that the book would not be closed till death. 

A bright chapter it was, despite the dark background of European 
despotism, and he must have thought it also an extraordinarily rich 
one. Perhaps not even he could completely catalogue his observa- 
tions and acquisitions in the realms of art and architecture, agri- 
culture and household furniture, science and invention. But he could 
think of the books and plants and drawings he had sent or was send- 
ing home, of the furnishings he had left in the Hotel de Langeac, of 
the pictures he had bought or ordered, of the wines he was shipping, 
of the vineyards and rice fields he had observed in Burgundy and 
Bordeaux and Lombardy. Many of these things he could take with 
him. They could go in boxes or be preserved in letters and memo- 
randa. They were his to give or keep for the rest of life. He could 
even put musical scores in boxes, as actually he did; but until he 
returned to Europe, such concerts as he had heard in Paris could be 
only a memory less real than pictures of the Maison Carree or the 
Hotel de Salm. Only in Europe could the favorite passion of his soul 
be fully satisfied, and the music which had delighted him must have 
seemed like a lovely dream as he listened to the lapping of the waves. 


The chief thrills of the voyage came at the very end of it. The coast 
of the American continent, like that of Europe, was obscured by mists 
when they neared it and a pilot could not have been seen had one 
appeared. The bold Captain, running in at a venture without being 
able to see the Virginia capes, managed to get inside and anchored at 
Lynhaven Bay, where Jefferson wrote a letter to his secretary William 
Short. Meanwhile, the wind rose, and when they beat up against it 
they lost their topsails and were almost run down by a brig going 
before the wind out of port. 

The Jeffersons landed at Norfolk about midday on November 23 y 
1789, and went to Lindsay's Hotel. If the Minister did not take his 


official records ashore at once, he nearly lost them. Fire broke out 
on the vessel before the baggage was unloaded, though their belong- 
ings were all saved in the end. Jefferson had much liked the lines of a 
table on the Clermont, and had left with Captain Colley a memo- 
randum to have one like it made for him in London, of the finest 
mahogany, and shipped to France. He got it in America after a year 

or so. 

He now learned that something important with respect to him as a 
public man had happened on the very day that he left Paris, though 
he had been utterly oblivious of it when waiting at Havre and Cowes 
and while sailing in autumn sunshine on his voyage home. President 
Washington had nominated him as secretary of state, the Senate had 
confirmed him, and he was greeted in Norfolk as a high official of 
the new government and not merely as a diplomat at home on leave. 
It was three weeks before he got the letter which Washington had 
written him in October, and well into the new year before he accepted 
the appointment, but almost at the moment that he stepped on Vir- 
ginia's soil he was confronted with what amounted to a fait accompli. 
The Mayor, Recorder, and Alderman of the Borough of Norfolk 
addressed him two days after his arrival congratulating him on his 
safe arrival in his native land, thanking him for his eminent services 
to the trade of his State, and fervently wishing him happiness and 
continued success in the important station to which he had been 
called by a grateful country. His own reply was gracious, patriotic, 
and noncommittal. "That my country should be served is the first 
wish of my heart," he said; "I should be doubly happy indeed, were 
I to render it a service." In times past when he had said "my country" 
he nearly always meant Virginia, but now he must have been think- 
ing of the Republic as a whole. 

Toward the end of the month Jefferson took his little party by ferry 
across the Roads to Hampton, and then they drove through Williams- 
burg to Richmond. Nobody reported just how the dogs were trans- 
ported, but the baggage went by stage to Richmond, where the 
travelers arrived after about a week, having lingered somewhat at 
the homes of friends along the way. In the capital city of the Com- 
monwealth, Jefferson received addresses of welcome and congratula- 
tion from both houses of the General Assembly, then in session. Here 
he was described as "late Minister Plenipotentiary/' but without 
direct reference to the secretaryship of state. This occasion was Vir- 

The Return of a Virginian 271 

ginian in flavor, the term "native country" had a more local connota- 
tion, and the two committees seem to have waited on him informally. 
He was back among old political associates and friends. 

While he was in Richmond, Jefferson brought himself up to date 
on the political situation. North Carolina had accepted the new Con- 
stitution, but Rhode Island had again rejected it. The amendments 
Madison had designed to meet the major objections in the Virginia 
ratifying convention, and to provide the protection of individual 
rights which seemed so necessaiy to Jefferson and George Mason, had 
been ratified by the House of Delegates but not yet by the Senate. 
These seemed sure of adoption and presumably they cut the ground 
from under the feet of the antifederalists. Jefferson remarked that 
Patrick Henry, despite his continuing popularity, had been so often 
in the minority that he had quit the Assembly in disgust, "never 
more to return, unless an opportunity offers to overturn the new 

He also observed the new state capitol for which he had sent a 
model; and he picked up numerous items of personal information, 
such as deaths and marriages among the Virginia gentry, which he 
passed on at the first opportunity to Short in Paris. This opportunity 
came at Eppington below the James, where his daughters especially 
Polly renewed ties with the Eppes family and he himself received 
a belated but important letter from the President of the United States, 
As he had ridden along the rough roads of his beloved Virginia he 
must have done some thinking about the position in the federal gov- 
ernment to which he had been appointed, and about which he must 
say something. This he did about the middle of December when he 
was visiting other relatives of his dead wife, the Skipwiths in Ches- 
terfield County. 

He was probably as surprised by the title of the office as by the 
coupling of his own name with it, for John Jay had been "the Secre- 
tary for Foreign Affairs" in the old government. He soon learned, 
however, that Congress had put foreign affairs and the whole domes- 
tic administration, except for war and finance, into one department, 
to be headed by a secretary of state, He harbored no real doubts of 
his ability to handle the foreign business. Since Franklin was too old, 
John Adams was vice president, and John Jay was now chief justice- 
though continuing his old ofiices temporarily-the choice of Jefferson 
for the conduct of foreign affairs must have seemed little short of in- 


evitable to him, as it did to many others. But the thought of the addi- 
tional mass of domestic administration, carrying with it the prob- 
ability of public criticism and censure, appalled him. As lie wrote 
the President, his personal inclination was to remain in the position 
he was already familiar with. "But," he added, "it is not for an in- 
dividual to choose his post . . . you are to marshal us as may be best 
for the public good." Having thus tried to avoid the responsibility 
of making a difficult decision, he wrote Short that he supposed lie 
would remain as Minister. Perhaps this remark was designed to make 
his secretary feel better, but Short had already had letters from Jay 
and Hamilton assuring him that the President's desire could not he 
resisted. The matter was still unsettled when the Minister on leave 
received a welcome from his slaves at Monticello and his neighbors 
in Albemarle which must have reconciled this deeply sensitive man 
to his inability to return to France. 

He got home two days before Christmas. The news of his coming, 
which he sent ahead in order that the house might be ready, had 
spread like wildfire through his farms, and the slaves had asked for 
and received a holiday. Their joyful reception of the Master and his 
daughters constituted a scene like no other that Martha ever wit- 
nessed. Accounts differ as to whether the slaves actually unhitched 
the horses and pulled the carriage up the last ridge of the mountain, 
but there can be little doubt about what they did when it reached the 
top, They carried the Master to the house in their arms, some blub- 
bering and some laughing, kissing his hands and feet and the ground 
beneath him. To their simple minds it seemed that he had come 
liorne to stay, and he must have thought it good to be there though 
he did not like to be the master of slaves or anyone else though his 
wife was dead, and his red lands were wasted. 

His neighbors addressed their congratulations to him soon after he 
got home, upwards of a dozen of them signing a paper: Dr. George 
Gilmer and Nicholas Lewis, James Monroe a newcomer there 
though long a friend, Thomas Garth the steward, three by the name 
of Nicholas, and a half dozen others. They reminded him that twenty 
years earlier they had sent him to the House of Burgesses; they be- 
lieved that his conduct in every stage of public life since then had 
been as satisfactory to those he served as it had always been to them; 
and they specially commended him for his strong attachment to the 
rights of all mankind. 

The Return of a Virginian 273 

His reply got into the newspapers of the time but since then It has 
attracted little or no attention. The draft which is preserved in his 
own papers shows by its many corrections and interlineations how 
carefully he prepared it; and it remains until this day one of the 
finest expressions of the thoughts and hopes of a philosophical states- 
man, of the sentiments of a good neighbor who extended the sun- 
shine of his benevolence to all his countrymen and all the people of 
the earth. To these old friends, who had assigned him the first public 
part he ever played and whose affection was the source of his purest 
happiness, he said: 

. . . We have been fellow-labourers & fellow-sufferers, & heaven 
has rewarded us with a happy issue from our struggles. It rests 
now with ourselves to enjoy in peace & concord the blessings of 
self-government so long denied to mankind: to shew by example 
the sufficiency of human reason for the care of human affairs and 
that the will of the majority, the natural law of every society, is 
the only sure guardian of the rights of man. Perhaps even this 
may sometimes err but it's errors are honest, solitary & shortlived. 
Let us then, my dear friends, for ever bow down to the general 
reason of society. We are safe with that, even in its deviations, 
for it soon returns again to the right way. These are lessons we 
have learned together. We have prospered in their practice, and 
the liberality with which you are pleased to approve my attach- 
ment to the general rights of mankind assures me we are still 
together in these it's kindred sentiments. 

In the county of his birth this traveler, just returned from a con- 
tinent in the throes of revolution against ancient despotisms, swore 
allegiance again to the holy cause of freedom, while announcing his 
undying faith in the sufficiency of human reason and his necessary 
reliance on the will of the majority. He wrote more famous papers, 
but never one which better summed up the philosophy by which 
his feet were guided. 


Before he again left his Albemarle neighbors, in this first year of 
government under the new Constitution, he had to attend to certain 


important personal matters. He had to make a real decision about the 
secretaryship of state, for Washington was much too wise to make it 
for him; he soon found out that he had to give away his daughter 
Martha in marriage; and he must straighten out his financial affairs 
whether he returned to France or not. 

He talked with James Madison about the secretaryship. While at 
home from Congress during the Christmas season, this great little 
architect of the new government, who was closer to George Washing- 
ton at this stage than any other leader, rode over to Monticello from 
Orange County to greet and sound out his long-absent friend. Madi- 
son wrote Washington early in the new year that Jefferson had no 
enthusiasm whatever for the domestic business which had been at- 
tached to the Department of State and which he supposed would 
exceed the foreign. Madison himself thought that this would be tri- 
fling, that if any man could handle the whole business Jefferson 
surely could, and that there could be a new division of it if necessary. 

These reflections commended themselves to the President and he 
forthwith repeated them in a characteristically kind letter. "I consider 
the successful administration of the general Government as an object 
of almost infinite consequence to the present and future happiness 
of the citizens of the United States/* he said. "I consider the office of 
Secretary for the Department of State as very important on many 
accounts: and I know of no person, who, in my judgment could better 
execute the duties of it than yourself." He added the encouraging 
information that the appointment had given very extensive and very 
general satisfaction to the public. 

It was obviously an admirable appointment, and although Wash- 
ington said the appointee must make the decision, he left no possible 
doubt of his own desire. Jefferson was also impressed by the fact 
that others shared thismore of them, he said, than he expected. 
Hence he saw no real choice and, in the middle of February, he 
bowed to the inevitable. The complete sincerity of his frequently 
expressed preference for his old post in France may be questioned 
by some, just as he may be charged by some with false modesty, but 
if he cherished any considerable personal ambition he gave no sign 
of it even to those most intimate with him. What he did reveal clearly 
was the conflict of fears within his breast. His sensitiveness to the 
opinions of others was a major factor in his ultimate political success, 
but it was also his chief temperamental weakness and a main cause 

The Return of a Virginian 275 

of personal unhappiness. In France, far from the public that he 
served, he would have been much safer from the public criticism 
and disapproval that he dreaded; but he would have wounded men 
whose good opinion he deeply valued if he had rejected this new 
task, and acceptance seemed the lesser evil. His fitness for high office 
was no accident, but there was much that was fortuitous in the pre- 
cise form that his public service took. He had resolved forever to 
"bow down to the general reason of society," and he may well have 
thought that he was doing so by yielding to the polite urging of 
George Washington, the unanimously elected and deeply revered 
head of the American Republic. 

Madison had written him from New York that "a universal anxiety" 
was expressed for his acceptance, sending him at the same time a 
newspaper account of Hamilton's first Report on the Public Credit, 
just submitted to Congress and not yet fully understood. Jefferson 
could hardly have realized that this report marked the beginning of 
a new phase of the administration of George Washington and that a 
fresh alignment of political forces was to emerge from the conflict 
over it. On February 11, 1790, in the House of Representatives, Madi- 
son opposed the form, though not the essential purpose, of one of 
Hamilton's major proposals. Jefferson had not had time to hear of it 
when he wrote his own letter of acceptance three days later; and there 
is no reason to believe that his friend's urging was due to the desire 
to gain political reinforcement for a pending domestic battle. It is 
uncertain whether Jefferson saw Hamilton's full report before he left 
Monticello on March 1, and even if he did he may have laid it aside 
for more careful and extended study at a more convenient season. 
He had his daughter's marriage to her cousin, Thomas Mann Ran- 
dolph, Jr., on his mind. This took place on February 23. An important 
motion of Madison's was decisively beaten in the House of Repre- 
sentatives the day before, and Madison spoke on the question of the 
assumption of state debts the day after, but these facts were still 
unknown to Jefferson and purely coincidental. 


The marriage of Martha Jefferson was an extremely important 
domestic event, wholly unrelated to public questions. Since the death 


of her mother about seven and a half years before, she had been 
closer to her father's heart than any other person. Polly, nearly six 
years younger, had been with him much less and was never quite so 
harmonious with him in spirit. His relations with the Eppes family 
had remained close despite his long absence, but during his stay in 
France his ties with his own brothers and sisters, though maintained 
by occasional letters, had become attenuated. The year before he 
came home his youngest sister, Anna Scott, the twin of his brother 
Randolph, had made a late and unimpressive marriage with Hastings 
Marks, a former neighbor of his with whom he had no particular 
acquaintance. He had recognized the event and the new relationship 
by writing them both politely, but, whatever he might say, this cir- 
cumstance did not toucli him closely. Patsy's marriage was quite 
another matter. 

His youngest sister was nearly thirty-three when she finally escaped 
the old maid's state. Martha was only a few months past seventeen, 
but early marriage was general in this society and he raised no objec- 
tion on the score of age. Inbreeding was also common among the 
Virginia gentry and nobody looked askance at the union of cousins 
twice or thrice removed. The partner of his daughter's choice, then 
a little past twenty-one, was the son of Thomas Mann Randolph of 
Tuckahoe, whom Peter Jefferson had guarded during childhood and 
Thomas Jefferson had known all his life. Some three weeks before 
the wedding he wrote the Colonel: "The marriage of your son with 
my daughter cannot be more pleasing to you than to me. Besides 
the worth which I discover in him, I am happy that the bond of 
friendship between us, as old as ourselves, should be drawn closer 
and closer to the day of our death." 

He found "worth" in young Randolph and accepted him without 
the slightest reservation as a son, but it is a question just how much 
he had seen of him in recent years. He had corresponded with the 
student at Edinburgh and given a full measure of advice, but, de- 
spite the enduring tradition, it is uncertain whether the young traveler 
made a visit to him in Paris. Hence one wonders just when and how 
the courtship was conducted. Perhaps the girls stayed for a time at 
Tuckahoe while their father was greeting old friends in Richmond, 
and young Randolph must have soon come visiting to Monticello. 
At all events, he paid his "addresses" to Martha after she returned to 
Virginia, and her father let her indulge her sentiments freely, sera- 

The Return of a Virginian 277 

pulously suppressing his own wishes until hers turned out to be iden- 
tical. That is what he said, but his daughter could hardly have failed 
to see that this young man would be highly acceptable to him. 
Intellectually young Randolph was, or became, a man of parts and 
his father-in-law found him companionable. Tall and lean and a bold 
horseman, he was no doubt a dashing figure at this stage, though it 
soon appeared that he needed much help in the management of his 

As for Martha, later descriptions emphasized the beauty of her 
character, not her person, and a miniature made in Paris when the 
bloom of youth was on her is less attractive than her portrait by 
Sully as a matron. Her rather homely face, as seen by contemporaries 
in daily life, was brightened by good will and animated by intelli- 
gence. She was tall, loosely made, and awkward in movement, but 
her voice was sweet and her manners were gracious. She had blue 
eyes and reddish hair, and was best summed up afterwards by the 
remark that she was a delicate likeness of her father, The similarity 
was more than physical but while close it was not complete, for she 
had already revealed a more active sense of humor. Her father had 
done his best to make her accomplished, but there were other things 
which concerned him more. He once made some notes on the duties 
of a wife, and presumably these were for his daughter on the eve of 
marriage, As read now, his words have an old-fashioned and strongly 
masculine flavor, and only by contrast do they suggest the salons and 
boudoirs of Paris. "Sweetness of temper, affection to a husband and 
attention to his interests, constitute the duties of a wife and form the 
basis of domestic felicity," he wrote. "The charms of beauty, and the 
brilliancy of wit, though they may captivate in the mistress will not 
long delight in the wife: they will shorten their own transitory reign 
if as I have often seen they shine more for the attraction of every- 
body else than their husbands/' Martha had heard him say this sort 
of thing many times before and did not need to be admonished now. 
She was quite unspoiled, and time was to show that she fully lived 
up to his standards for her as a wife and mother. 

Colonel Randolph, who had been a widower for a year, offered to 
convey to his son a tract of 950 acres in Henrico County called Varina, 
with forty slaves on and belonging to it, and executed the deed 
promptly on the insistence of the more businesslike Jefferson, who 
promptly matched it, though he wisely made his gift to Martha and 


her heirs, not to her husband. It consisted of 1000 acres of his Poplar 
Forest tract in Bedford County and twelve families of slaves, along 
with some stock. The young couple seemed well provided for. 

He saw them wedded on February 23, bore the expense of the 
license, and paid the clergyman the marriage fee. On March 1 he left 
them and Polly at Monticello, and during the spring wrote the three 
of them in turn. His letters were affectionate, solicitous, and moni- 
tory; and theirs, when finally they came, were appealingly dependent. 
Before summer both girls were at Eppington, where Polly remained 
with her "dear Aunt Eppes," a serious rival of her father in her affec- 
tions. Meanwhile, young Randolph looked over his farm at Varina, 
where he and Martha were determined to live despite the inconve- 
nience of the place. He was not well, could not stand the heat, and 
seemed rather helpless and confused when he unburdened himself 
to his father-in-law. What the young pair most wanted was to find 
a place near Monticello, and in the course of time they did. Their 
financial prospects took a turn for the worse that summer, when 
Colonel Randolph, who was older than Jefferson, found a much 
younger lady for a wife and made another marriage settlement. Jef- 
ferson, who fully recognized the Colonel's susceptibility, urged his 
daughter to adjust herself to this confused situation, and he himself 
entered into negotiations with the elder Randolph in the autumn for 
the purchase of Edgehill, an admirable place for Martha and her 
husband in Albemarle. These dragged on for several years and need 
not concern us here. 

Jefferson had gained a son but had not lost a daughter. Some years 
later, when Martha was several times a mother and he was about to 
return home from the seat of government, she said in the course of 
a sentimental letter: "The first sensations of my life were affection 
and respect for you and none others in the course of it have weakened 
or surpassed that." No new ties, she observed, "can weaken the first 
and best of nature/' But she showed toward her husband the loyalty 
her father had instilled in her, and within the first year of marriage 
Thomas Mann Randolph, Jr., had accumulated an eternal debt of grat- 
itude to Jefferson. From the beginning the young couple depended 
on him as on nobody else, and when complications arose he generally 
managed to straighten things out. But as he set out for Richmond on 
March 1, 1790, leaving his two daughters and his new son on the 
mountain, his immediate concern was to tidy up his own tangled 

The Return of a Virginian 279 

finances before proceeding northward to new official duties in New 

While at home he had not failed to observe that his farms had 
deteriorated during his long absence from them. He could not give 
them much personal attention now, and he left Nicholas Lewis in 
general charge of his local affairs, making a provisional arrangement 
with Thomas Garth in the event of the death of this friend and neigh- 
bor, whose health at the time was bad. Perhaps anticipating the 
sale of more distant holdings which he made later in the year, he 
rather conservatively estimated his lands as amounting to upwards 
of 10,000 acres and he now had about 200 slaves. His assets seemed 
to him sufficient to warrant an advance of money which he sorely 
needed, and accordingly he wrote to the bankers in Amsterdam with 
whom he had conducted official business, inquiring about a personal 
loan of one or two thousand dollars. Then, in Richmond, he formal- 
ized his arrangements with his English creditors. The bulk of his 
debt was attributable directly or indirectly to the burden with which 
his wife's estate was weighted when she got it from her father, John 
Wayles, and was owed to two chief houses. The total now was more 
than Jo 7500, and the accumulated interest charges now amounted to 
more than fifty per cent of the principal. He provided for regular 
annual payments during the next seven years, thus completing an 
important part of the personal business which had brought him home, 
but as he signed his bonds he must have wondered if a thoroughly 
realistic balance sheet would have shown him to be solvent. 

After a week in Richmond, he proceeded to Alexandria, where he 
received from the Mayor another address of congratulation and made 
another reply. A heavy snow fell on the night of his arrival, whether 
or not it amounted to the eighteen inches which were reported by 
this teller of large stories who so hated cold weather. It convinced 
him that he would have difficulties on the road, so he left his phaeton 
to be sent by water and went himself by stage, his horses being led 
by two of his own servants. He had been unable to visit George 
Mason at Gunston Hall, but In Philadelphia he was visited by Ben- 
jamin Rush, and he himself called for the last time on the bedridden 
and now emaciated Franklin. 


Dr. Rush, who had known him in the Continental Congress, found 
him plain in dress and unchanged in manners, still attached to repub- 
lican forms of government, still comparing American and European 
animals to the disadvantage of the latter. Jefferson found Dr. Franklin 
characteristically cheerful but feared that their animated conversa- 
tion about the Revolution in France was really beyond the old man's 
strength. The dean of American diplomacy and chief luminary of 
philosophy died a month later, and surely the new Secretary of State 
was his spiritual heir if he left one. But when Jefferson arrived in 
New York on March 21, two weeks after leaving Richmond, it was 
his fellow Virginian, George Washington, that he reported to. He did 
this immediately, even though the day was Sunday, and at that 
moment a new era in his public life began. 

It was to be national in setting, international in scope, and univer- 
sal in spirit. The new Secretary of State had never been a mere 
localist, and he certainly was not one now. But he always loved the 
red hills of Albemarle more than the streets of any city, and he could 
be a great American and true citizen of the world without surren- 
dering his birthright as a Virginian. He kept returning to his native 
region until finally he came home for good, and in his heart of hearts 
he was always there. 


Just before leaving Paris, Jefferson wrote down his deepest phil- 
osophical critique of constitutions and the ultimate ends of good 
government in a letter to Madison. It raised a question that Jefferson 
believed had never been raised before, but which, in his view, was 
one of the most fundamental in political philosophy: has one genera- 
tion a right to bind another? This is the famous letter of September 
6, 1789, usually identified by its powerful theme "The earth belongs 
always to the living generation." 1 When Madison received the com- 
munication, he instantly wrote a searching reply. 2 

The two letters together (Jefferson scholars have failed to consider 
Madison's reply) constitute a brilliant finis for Jefferson's long and 
profitable tour of duty in Europe and Madison's supreme fight in 
America to establish a strong constitution and a stable new govern- 
ment. Nowhere in the friendship of fifty years can we find a better 
expression of intellectual reciprocity, enabling Madison to sparkle 
with borrowed warmth, and Jefferson to discipline the humane over- 
ambitiousness of his proposals. The perfect courtesy that pervaded 
this and other intellectual encounters made it possible for stringent 

Revised by Miss Koch for this anthology from Jefferson and Madison: The 
Great Collaboration, by Adrienne Koch. Copyright 1950 by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. 
Printed by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. and Adrienne Koch. 

1 Jefferson to Madison, Paris, September 6, 1789. Writings (Ford), V, 
115-124. Printed versions of this letter are not entirely correct. The Memorial 
Edition of Jefferson's Writings prints Jefferson's first version of this letter; but 
he corrected the important error of computing 34 years as the span of a "genera- 
tion" to 19 years in the second version of the letter. There are other differences 
in this second version. The Ford Edition prints the corrected second version, but 
misreads several important sentences and phrases. For drafts, first version, and 
second version the Jefferson Papers at the Library of Congress must be con- 
sulted. For the original o the second version see Madison Papers, L. C. 

2 Madison to Jefferson, New York, February 4, 1790. Writings (Hunt), V, 
437-41, n. 



criticism to be received without hurt, and philosophical prodding 
to be tolerated without injury to pride. The impression one gathers 
here an impression reinforced in other exchangesis that Jefferson 
is more speculative and more daring in putting forward dynamic 
generalizations, and that Madison is the more astute politician. Jef- 
ferson's liberated spirit made it possible for Madison to achieve the 
flair that required more than political intuition, while Madison sup- 
plied the means for Jefferson to remain a philosopher in politicsa 
philosopher, that is, charged with real power. 


Jefferson set up his argument in the letter on the "self evident" 
principle that the earth belongs to the living, and not to the dead. 
The dead have no powers and no rights, for they are nothing. What- 
ever powers or rights they had when alive cease naturally with their 
death. Therefore, since the dead have no rights, they have no right 
to bind the living. 

The first application of this principle established that specific 
property rights are civil and not natural rights. The earth is made 
for the use of the living by natural law, but specific lands are owned 
by the living only by virtue of the laws of society. The portion of the 
earth occupied by any man ceases to be his with his death, and reverts 
to society. "Then no man can by natural right oblige the lands he 
occupied. . . . For if he could, he might during his own life, eat up 
the usufruct of the lands for several generations to come, and then 
the lands would belong to the dead, and not to the living, which 
would be the reverse of our principle. What is true of every member 
of the society individually, is true of them all collectively, since the 
rights of the whole can be no more than the sum of the rights of 
individuals/' 3 

The second application Jefferson made of the principle that the 
earth belongs to the living concerned the public debt. Since the dead 
have no right to bind the living, the living are under no obligation to 
pay the debts of the dead. The living have no right to burden pos- 
terity with their own debts and are morally bound to pay them within 
their own time. "I suppose that the received opinion, that the public 

3 Jefferson to Madison, Paris, September 6, 1789. Writing? (Ford), V, 116. 

The Earth Belongs to the Living 283 

debts of one generation devolve on the next, has been suggested by 
our seeing habitually in private life that he who succeeds to lands is 
required to pay the debts of his ancestor or testator, without con- 
sidering that this requisition is municipal only, not moral, flowing 
from the will of the society . . . but that between society and society, 
or generation and generation there is no municipal obligation, no 
umpire but the law of nature." 4 

In presenting this argument for a natural limit on the public debt, 
Jefferson had in mind the perpetuation of debts by France and Great 
Britain. Because no limit was accepted, these countries witnessed the 
dissipations of their rulers and the corruptions of war. These in turn 
put the people under ever accumulating burdens of taxation, with 
resulting poverty and oppression. "By reducing . . . the faculty of 
borrowing within its natural limits, it would bridle the spirit of war, 
to which too free a course has been procured by the inattention of 
money lenders to this law of nature, that succeeding generations are 
not responsible for the preceding 5 , . . and it will exclude . . . the 
contagious and ruinous errors of this quarter of the globe, which 
have armed despots with means not sanctioned by nature for binding 
in chains their fellow-men." 6 

To preserve the independence of the people and guard the rights 
of posterity, Jefferson proposed that governments should fix the ulti- 
mate terms for the redemption of public debts within the limits of 
their rightful powers. The law of nature prescribes the limits of their 
powers within the period of the life of the majority. This rule would 
prevent the creation of a perpetual or unjust public debt. The point 
is so important for Jefferson that he urged the consideration of a fun- 
damental provision in the new French constitution: ". . . would it not 
be wise and just for that nation to declare in the constitution they 
are forming that neither the legislature, nor the nation itself can 
validly contract more debt, than they may pay within their own 
age ... ?" 7 

In writing to Madison, however, Jefferson had more immediate 
concerns than a declaration of rights iA the French constitution, He 

* Ibid,, V, 120. 

* Ibid., V, 121. 
o Ibid., V, 128. 
7 Ibid., V, 120. 


proposed that Madison should consider the application of this prin- 
ciple to the United States. "It would furnish matter for a fine preamble 
to our first law for appropriating the public revenue. . . . We have 
already given, in example, one effectual check to the Dog of war, by 
transferring the power of letting him loose from the executive to the 
Legislative body, from those who are to spend to those who are to 
pay. I should be pleased to see this second obstacle held out by us 
also in the first instance. No nation can make a declaration against the 
validity of long-contracted debts so disinterestedly as we, since we 
do not owe a shilling which may not be paid with ease principal and 
interest, within the time of our own lives." 8 

The third and most important application of the principle that the 
earth belongs to the living concerned the constitution and laws of 
any society. Since each generation is independent of the one pre- 
ceding, it has a right to choose its own constitution and laws. No 
constitution, no law, is too sacred to be changed. This is the heart of 
Jefferson's philosophy of constitutions: 

... no society can make a perpetual constitution, or even a per- 
petual law. The earth belongs always to the living generation. 
They may manage it then, and what proceeds from it, as they 
please, during their usufruct. They are masters too of their own 
persons, and consequently may govern them as they please. But 
persons and property make the sum of the objects of government. 
The constitution and the laws of their predecessors extinguished 
them, in their natural course, with those whose will gave them 
being. This could preserve that being till it ceased to be itself, and 
no longer ... If it be enforced longer, it is an act of force and not 
of right. 9 

In closing his letter, Jefferson had called on Madison to take up 
the thesis and promote it with "that cogent logic so peculiarly yours." 
Only Madison, Jefferson thought, could create the opportunity to 
"force" the subject into discussionso high did Madison stand "in the 
councils of our country." Aware of the theoretical cast of his sugges- 
tions, Jefferson apologized for what would "at first blush ... be 
laughed at, as the dream of a theorist" an apology which he softened, 

8 Ibid., V, 123. 

9 Ibid., V, 121. 

The Earth Belongs to the Living 285 

in his second version of the letter, to "at first blush it may be rallied 
as a theoretical speculation." 10 These were very likely only conven- 
tional disclaimers, since Jefferson protested that examination would 
prove his theory "solid and salutary." 


Despite Jefferson's friendly appeals, Madison was loath to employ 
his "cogent logic" in promoting a policy on the limits of constitutions, 
laws, and public debts that he considered unrealistic. The form taken 
by Madison in his reply was to agree in theory with his friend's 
fundamental principles, but to attack on the grounds of practicabil- 
ity virtually every specific proposal the letter contained. He detailed 
the reasons for his skepticism. 

His first big gun was directed against Jefferson's recommendation 
that all constitutions require periodic revision every nineteen years 
in order to allow each generation to legislate fcr itself. Were such a 
limitation imposed on the fundamental laws of a society, what would 
be its effect? Madison objected that he could see three distinct dis- 
advantages flowing from this mechanical limitation on constitutions. 
First, government would be subject to an interregnum, with all its 
attendant consequences. Secondly a government "too mutable & 
novel" loses its tradition and the cumulative respect of a patriotic 
citizenry. Probably every government requires "that share of preju- 
dice in its favor which is a salutary aid to the most rational govern- 
ment." Third, Madison suspected that periodic total revisions of a 
constitution might encourage "pernicious factions . . . and agitate the 
public rnincl more frequently and more violently than might be 
expedient." u 

The second big gun was trained on laws carrying some stipulation 
rendering them irrevocable at the will of the legislature. "If the earth 
be the gift of nature to the living, their title can extend to the earth 
in its natural state only/' In a civil state, Madison pointed out, the 
"improvements made by the dead form a debt against the living, 
who take the benefit of them." 12 Therefore, those who initiated the 

10 Ibid,, V, 123; and Jefferson Papers and Madison Papers, L.C. 

11 Madison to Jefferson, New York, February 4, 1790. Writings (Hunt), V, 
438-9, n. 

12 Ibid., V, 439, n. 


improvements can properly impose obligations upon the future gen- 
erations who will gain by them. Especially is this true of debts in- 
curred in wars of national defense. There are also debts incurred 
principally for the benefit of posterity, and not necessarily discharge- 
able within the term of nineteen years. In general, Madison con- 
cluded this series of objections by stating that upon investigation 
there seemed to be some "foundation in the nature of things" to sup- 
port the "descent of obligations from one generation to another. 13 

The third big gun of Madison's critique aimed at ordinary laws. 
Here Madison announced his objections were "merely practical," 
but so strong that they constituted very material objections indeed. 
Considering mainly positive laws concerning property, Madison 
foresaw "the most violent struggles . . . between the parties interested 
in reviving & those interested in reforming the antecedent state of 
property." 14 Anarchy, or at least a general confusion about the 
state of things would then "discourage every useful effort of steady 
industry pursued under the sanction of existing laws." 15 

The burden of the final section of Madison's letter of reply was 
philosophical. He properly interpreted Jefferson's position to imply 
a doctrine of "overt or express" declaration of the public will on the 
part of each generation, for constitutions and for laws affecting public 
debt and property. This assumption conditioned Jefferson's argu- 
ment throughout, and in Madison's opinion led to the "embarrass- 
ments" he had just reviewed in his threefold critique of "the earth 
belongs to the living." The only escape from this unworkable doc- 
trine, Madison thought, was to endorse the prevalent doctrine that 
there can be tacit assent to established governments and laws "and 
that this assent is to be inferred from the omission of an express 
revocation." 16 Without implied or tacit consent, civil society could 
not exist. This principle, in fact, is at the heart of the republican 
belief that the voice of the majority binds the minority. If one asks 
why majority rule, the answer can hardly be that it is decreed by a 
law of nature! For, Madison pointed out, a law of nature would 
strictly imply unanimity rather than mere majority. The answer, 

is ibid. 

w Ibid. 

is ibid., V, 440, n. 

is ibid. 

The Earth Belongs to the Living 287 

Madison thought, must be derived from "compact founded on util- 
ity," not from natural law at all. Finally, if one were to suppose that 
tacit or implied assent could not be allowed, "no person born in 
Society, could on attaining ripe age, be bound by any acts of the 
majority, and either a unanimous renewal of every law would be 
necessary, as often as a new member should be added to the Society, 
or the express consent of every new member be obtained to the rule 
by which the majority decides for the whole/' 

The grander vision of Jefferson's startling proposal, however, did 
not escape Madison's consideration. He readily granted that Jef- 
ferson's principle was of general importance for philosophical legis- 
lators. In the main, he himself accepted Jefferson's objective: to make 
constitutions sensitive to the majority will of each successive genera- 
tionfor without this, as Jefferson had pointed out, a constitution 
would be "an act of force and not of right." Madison further wel- 
comed the principle, and said it would give him pleasure "to see it 
first announced to the world in a law of the United States" to restrain 
living generations from placing "unjust and unnecessary" burdens 
on their successors. 17 For the present generation is morally bound to 
respect the natural rights the basic needs of coming generations, 
however much positive laws in any given society may depart from 
the moral ideal. In short, those who set the financial policy of demo- 
cratic countries would be doing well to bear this principle in mind 
and apply it to the changing circumstances of their own day. But 
the limitation on debt policy, or legal or constitutional policy, could 
not be mechanical or automatic, restricted to nineteen or any other 
number of years. Nor could debts be restricted in intention to the 
present generation if the object of the debts could justly be claimed 
as a necessary burden on posterity, the debt having been incurred 
principally for the benefit of posterity. The debt incurred on account 
of the Revolutionary War, which the United States was still strug- 
gling with at the time of Madison's writing., was such a debt. 

In general, the fundamental features of the theory that proved 
acceptable to both Jefferson and Madison were forward-looking and 
generous in their regard for the liberty and welfare of generations 
to come in America. Madison's agreement with Jefferson in regard- 
ing constitutions as subject to principled alteration was one of many 

^ Ibid., V., 441, n. 


convincing proofs that although he was a constitution-maker, he was 
not a constitution-idolater. Both men were liberal and experimental 
in their effort to provide a society that would meet the demands of 
each living being for conditions that would encourage growth and 
self-respect. That was why Jefferson really cared more for bills of 
rights than he did for constitutions. Bills of rights, declarations of 
fundamental political principles such as he had provided in the 
Declaration of Independence and had promoted while in France, 
were salutary reminders of the ends of good government and the 
restraints upon power that every free society would honor. 

While Madison underwrote what he considered to be the sound 
part of Jefferson's theoretical letter, he made it clear that he was in 
no position to assure his friend of the readiness of the new American 
government to accept the principles they both valued. It would be 
a long time, he warned, before "truths . . , seen through the medium 
of Philosophy, become visible to the naked eye of the ordinary 
politician/' 18 


One cannot properly appreciate Jefferson's perspective on the 
theme that the earth belongs to the living without reference to his 
recent experiences abroad. France, on the eve and in the dawn of 
revolution, was the climax of his exciting opportunity to gain "the 
knowledge of another world." In the midst of the American Minister's 
momentous last year in Paris, he was permitted to play a unique role 
as American adviser to a group of influential and enlightened French 
leaders. For the liberal reform group headed by Lafayette, the group 
Jefferson referred to as "the Patriot Party," he became a subtle brain- 
truster, counseling deftly, urbanely, and without a suspicion of 
egotism. He kept a steady head, placed an effective historical per- 
spective on unprecedented and chaotic events, never wavered in his 
faith in free government. 

With all his liberal enthusiasm, however, Jefferson was cautious in 
assessing the realistic limits of the reform that France could bear. 
Had he had his way, the French Revolution would have ended with 
a humane charter of rights, such as the one he prepared and sent to 

!8 Ibid. 

The Earth Belongs to the Living 289 

Lafayette and Monsieur de St. Etienne, for submission to the King. 19 
The charter would have taken its place in a constitutional monarchy, 
Jefferson thought, designed to be no worse domestically than the 
British, and more restrained in its foreign ambitions. Possessed of a 
strong constitution of the sort Jefferson advocated, the French peo- 
ple, he decided, would have secured their basic liberties, and would 
be well placed for the gradual conquest of further popular rights and 

As the reform movement had gathered cumulative force in Paris, 
Jefferson's influence had even been felt in the French National 
Assembly. The opening of the fateful year 1789 found Jefferson busy 
with his intimate French friends, devising declarations of rights- 
tile basic principles to guide a society that was ready to affirm the 
great truth that "the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles 
on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride 
them legitimately, by the grace of God." 20 Having advised Lafayette 
on the chief principles to include in his declaration of rights, Jeffer- 
son was asked in turn to revise it. Penciled corrections of Lafayette's 
declaration on the copy Jefferson retained have been interpreted to 
be Jefferson's own. Jefferson must also have requested another good 
friend of his, Dr. Gem, to submit another version. Both declarations 
of rights Jefferson carefully copied in the original French and en- 
closed in a letter to Madison, so that America might study what the 
French intellectuals in the cause of liberty were turning their thoughts 
to. 21 In the summer of 1789 the French National Assembly in its pre- 
Revolutionary work became strikingly busy with similar declarations 
of rights. Jefferson's friends and disciples had not done their prepara- 
tory work in vain. 

A close investigation of manuscript sources in an attempt to evalu- 
ate Jefferson's claim of originality revealed an absorbing interchange 
of ideas, which appears to confirm his claim. 

10 Jefferson to M. do St. Etienne, Paris, June 3, 1789. Writings (Ford), V, 

20 Jefferson to R. C. Weightman, Monticello, June 24, 1826. Writings 
(Memorial), xvn, 81-2. 

21 Jefferson to Madison, August , 1789. W. C. Rives Papers, L. C. 


The intellectual interchange began in February 1788, in Paris, in 
Jefferson's handsome house which he rented from the Count de 
Langeac. A visitor, one of the many whom the hospitable Virginian 
entertained, arrived to spend the late winter and spring in Paris. He 
was Thomas Paine, inspired revolutionary propagandist, the journal- 
istic hero of the American Revolution. Apart from his pleasure at 
reunion with his good friends Jefferson and Lafayette, Paine had a 
project that had brought him to Paris: to get support from the French 
Academy of Sciences for his engineering venture to build the first 
iron bridge. He knew that Lafayette would be particularly helpful in 
this matter, and that Jefferson's enthusiasm almost matched his own. 
But after the business of the day was over, there was time for con- 
versation. And conversation must often have centered on the unprec- 
edented political developments taking place in two countries pecu- 
liarly interesting to the company, America and France. 

During the course of Paine's visit, there is proof that Jefferson 
turned the discussion in his home one night to the subject of natural 
rights. The receipt of news regarding James Wilson's arguments, some 
months earlier, in the Pennsylvania Convention for the ratification of 
the Constitution appears to have occasioned the discussion. Wilson 
had urged that a bill of rights was not desirable in the Constitution. 
Paine, upon returning to his own lodgings after the evening's dis- 
cussion, reflected further and composed a four-page memorandum 
on "natural and civil rights and the distinction between them." He 
sent this brief sketch of ideas to Jefferson "to see how nearly we 
agree." The main drift of Paine's memorandum was a sharp distinc- 
tion between natural rights, which he called rights of "personal com- 
petency" (such as thinking, speaking, forming and giving opinions), 
and civil rights or rights derived from compact, which secured in- 
dividuals personal protection for acquiring and possessing property. 22 
The discussion that interested these two doughty champions of 
republican theory did not die with that interesting evening. Jefferson's 
letter on the principle that the earth belongs to the living, and Paine's 
brilliant summation of republican political theory in his Rights of 

22 Jefferson Papers, L.C. Not dated on original, Formerly attributed to 
1789. Probable date February or May 1788, ( Most of March and April Jefferson 
was away from Paris, and the meeting referred to in the memo could not have 
taken place then. ) 

The Earth Belongs to the Living 291 

Man, took up the theme and developed it in accordance with the 
interests of the two authors. Paine wrote: 

There never did, there never will, and there never can exist a 
parliament, or any description of men, or any generation of men, 
in any country, possessed of the right or the power of binding and 
controlling posterity to the "end of rime" . . . therefore, all such 
clauses, acts or declarations, by which the makers of them attempt 
to do what they have neither the right nor the power to do ... 
are in themselves null and void. 

Every age and generation must be as free to act for itself, in all 
cuses, as the ages and generation which preceded it. The vanity 
and presumption of governing beyond the grave, is the most 
ridiculous and insolent of all tyrannies. 

Man has no property in man; neither has any generation a 
property in the generations which are to follow. . . . 

It is the living, and not the dead, that are to be accommodated. 23 

There is such a close parallelism between Jefferson's and Paine's 
formulation of the theme that the earth belongs to the living as to 
suggest that they continued their interchange on the elementary 
principles of good society and that one influenced the other. This 
suspicion is encouraged by the fact that when Paine returned to Lon- 
don in May 1788 ? he remained in close correspondence with Jefferson 
until the latter departed for America in the fall of 1789. But this cor- 
respondence gives no clue for the present inquiry. 

Further quest in the elusive matter whether Jefferson or Paine 
originated the striking idea that the earth belongs to the living led 
to the dim figure of Dr. Gem as a likely link in the transmission to 
Paine of Jefferson's elaboration of this idea. The first telling piece of 
evidence is a declaration of rights, in French, in Dr. Gem's hand (and 
endorsed by Jefferson as Gem's). This is one of the two sets of prin- 
ciples Jefferson sent to Madison to show what leading French thinkers 
were devising on the subject of fundamental rights. Although Gem's 
list is undated, it must have been written in the winter of 1788 or early 
in January 1789, because the date of Jefferson's copy of these same 
'Trincipes g6n6raux relatifs & un tat politique" was on or before 
January 12, 1789., when he sent it as an enclosure in his letter to 

28 The Complete Writings of Thomas Paine (New York: The Citadel Press; 
1945), I, 251. 


Madison. Commenting to Madison on the two unusual enclosures, 
Jefferson identified Lafayette as the first author and Dr. Gem as 
the second: 

The one is by our friend . . . [Lafayette]. You will see that it 
contains the essential principles of ours accomodated as much 
as could be to the actual state of things here. [No wonder, since 
Jefferson apparently helped Lafayette to compose it.] The other 
is from a very sensible man, a pure theorist, of the sect called the 
Oeconomists, of which Turgot was considered as the head. The 
former is adapted to the existing abuses; the latter goes to those 
possible as well as to those existing. 24 

The definitive connection between the physiocrat theoretician Dr. 
Gem and the theme "the earth belongs to the living" is established 
by a second remarkable document. This is a brief memorandum, in 
English, in Dr. Gem's hand (and again endorsed so by Jefferson). 
Although this document is still in the vast repository of Jefferson's 
papers at the Library of Congress, there is no entry to cover its 
receipt in Jefferson's scrupulous epistolary ledger. It is probable, 
therefore, that Dr. Gem gave it to Jefferson personally. The time 
must have been before September 6, 1789, when Jefferson worked 
out his letter to Madison. Gem had written: 

That one generation of men in civil society have no right to 
make acts to bind another, is a truth that cannot be contested. 

The earth & all things whatever can only be conceived to 
belong to the living, the dead & those who are unborn can have 
no rights of property. 

Individuals have the power to alienate their property or to 
engage it for the payment of debts. Why may not a body [of] 
men, a nation, contract debts & engage their united property for 
the payment of them? 

In this no rights of posterity seem to be violated; because the 
property of the present generation does not belong to them. 

To repress the interested, ambitious & corrupt conduct of the 
administrators of nations, it may be expedient to declare by a law, 
that after a certain term of years the payment of a loan shall be 

24 Jefferson to Madison, Paris, January 12, 1789. Writings < Ford ) , V, 64. 

The Earth Belongs to the Living 293 

void; creditors lending their money on these conditions suffer no 
wrong by the failure of payment. 

As things are constituted in Europe, the indebted nations 
cannot without injustice refuse the payment of public debts. 25 

A close analysis of these critical notes indicates that Jefferson had 
already discussed these matters with Dr. Gem. The order in which 
the ideas are presented, and the language employed, partially sub- 
stantiate this. The full substantiation is provided by the letter Jef- 
ferson sent to Dr. Gem on September 9, three days after Jefferson 
composed the final draft of the Madison letter. "The hurry in which 
I wrote my letter to Mr. Madison which is in your hands, occasioned 
an inattention to the difference between generations succeeding each 
other at fixed epochs, and generations renewed daily and hourly." 26 
Since the final letter to Madison introduced the revised model of 
generations to which Jefferson referred, it is evident that Dr. Gem 
saw an earlier draft than the one dated September 6. Moreover, 
Jefferson's final draft of the letter to Madison apparently tried to 
answer Dr. Gem's principal criticism, to the effect that a nation may 
contract debts and engage its "united property" as payment. 
Although Jefferson recognized that individuals in private life have 
the power to engage their property to pay their debts, he asserted 
that this power is municipal only, not moral. "But a material differ- 
ence must be noted between the succession of an individual and that 
of a whole generation. Individuals are parts only of a society, subject 
to the laws of a whole. . . . But when a whole generation, that is, 
the whole society dies . . . and another generation or society suc- 
ceeds, this forms a whole, and there is no superior who can give their 
territory to a third society." 27 Therefore, there is no municipal 
obligation between society and society or generation and generation, 
"no umpire but the law of nature." 28 

One final item in this story of the interchange of ideas is a letter 
from Jefferson to Dr. Gem, some months after Jefferson had arrived 
in America and when he knew he would not be returning to Paris. 

2r > Jefferson Papers, L. C. Undated, but probably August 1789. 

w Jefferson to Dr. Gem, [Paris] September 9, 1789. Jefferson Papers, L. C. 

27 Jefferson to Madison, Paris, September 6, 1789. Writings (Ford), V, 117-18. 

28 Ibid,, V, 120. 


The letter shows the affection and unusual regard Jefferson had for 
the doctor. 

In bidding adieu, my dear Doctor, to the country which united 
our residence, I find the loss of your society and instructive con- 
versation among the leading circumstances of regret. Be assured 
that I feel it most sensibly, and accept my warm acknowledg- 
ments for all your kindnesses and services to me and my family 
while at Paris. I hope that your philanthropy is by this time fully 
gratified by the final establishment of order, and equal govern- 
ment in a country which you love, and that you will still be 
pleased in seeing them extended to others so as to found a 
rational hope that man is at length destined to be happy and 
free 29 

The case for Jefferson's influence on Paine through the inter- 
mediary of Dr. Gem can now be completed. All three were interested 
in natural rights and in the French cause of liberty. Jefferson had 
discussed these matters with each of them. It is probable that Dr. 
Gem met Paine when the latter visited Jefferson in Paris and that 
lively discussions ensued on the elementary principles of a good 
society. Dr. Gem, so far as we know, was the only one who had a 
copy of Jefferson's letter to Madison on "the earth belongs to the 
living," Soon after Jefferson drafted the letter and left France, Paine 
turned up in Paris, very much the favorite of the French liberal 
leaders. He would naturally have gravitated to another ardent 
British champion of the French Revolution, like Dr. Gem. 

The hypothesis advanced here is that Paine saw a copy of Jeffer- 
son's letter to Madison. The vivid phrases would surely have ap- 
pealed to Paine; and their reappearance in the Rights of Man would 
then be an altogether natural occurrence, an everyday borrowing 
from a cultural milieu to which Paine had contributed and in which 
he felt altogether at home. 


The defense of the rights of living, begun in Jefferson's letter, was 
brought into sharper focus in the controversy that gave rise to the 
writing of the Rights of Man and that followed upon its publication 
in the United States. Paine's main purpose was to refute the reaction- 

29 Jefferson to Dr. Gem, New York, April 4, 1790. Jefferson Papers, L. C, 

The Earth Belongs to the Living 295 

ary political doctrine then being advocated in England by Edmund 
Burke. Paine had been taken up by Burke in the summer of 1788. But 
this odd alliance could not last long. Paine's vehement defense of 
everything American, which in itself had alienated some of his dis- 
tinguished new British friends, became insufferable to Burke when 
it was coupled with an even more provoking defense of the accel- 
erating French Revolution. Of the early stages of the Revolution, 
Paine had written to Jefferson that the year 1789 would be immor- 
talized as an "Anno Mundi or an Anno Domini." 30 As for Burke, the 
former defender of the rights of the American colonies, the French 
Revolution was anathema primarily because it was a break with the 
past. His tolerant skepticism about philosophical abstractions in poli- 
tics had given way under the pressure of the Revolution to an embit- 
tered metaphysical theory of society that outlawed all radical change. 
This theory was published, one year after Jefferson's forceful letter, 
in Burke's "Reflections on the Revolution in France." 

Burke's position was the perfect ideological opposite of the one 
defended by Jefferson and Paine. Contemptuous of the worship of 
"reason" and the large social and political innovations promoted by 
French Revolutionary republicans, he invoked the notion of a "Per- 
petual Charter" as a limit not only on revolutions, but on British 
reform movements as well. Rejecting all utilitarian approaches to 
society and politics, Burke made a mystical appeal to the spiritual 
partnership that was presumably the state's peculiar kind of contract. 
This contract was to be looked on with reverence since it extended 
beyond government to all science, all art, every virtue, and all per- 

As the ends of such a partnership cannot be obtained in many 
generations, it becomes a partnership not only between those who 
arc Hving, but between those who are living, those who are dead, 
and those who are about to be born. Each contract of each 
particular state is but a clause in the great primeval contract of 
eternal society, linking the lower with the higher natures; con- 
necting the visible and invisible world, according to a fixed com- 
pact sanctioned by the inviolable oath which holds all physical 
arid all moral nature, each in tiheir appointed place. 81 

8( > Paine to Jefferson, London, February 16, 1789. Jefferson Papers, L. C. 
81 Edmund Burke: Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790). Works 
(Bohn Edition, London, 1861), II, 368. 


Nothing could be less palatable to Jefferson and Paine than Burke's 
trans-empirical political philosophy. According to the two defenders 
of the view that the earth belongs to the living, there was something 
better than a spiritualistic interpretation of civilization the belief in 
the rights of men and their legitimate demand for favorable condi- 
tions to promote happiness in society. Freedom was hard enough to 
purchase, especially when its purchase price was blood. They were 
not inclined to defeat that freedom by obscurantist metapolitics that 
irrevocably bound the living to the dead and the future to the past. 
By some complex historical irony, in our own day the philosophy of 
natural rights is said to be "abstract*" and "metaphysical." But as 
Jefferson and Paine held this philosophy, it was an operational ap- 
proach to establish sound conditions for human security and growth. 
"Rights ," in short, could listen to "Reason," and "Reason" had no 
quarrel with "Utility." But a "Perpetual Partnership" like Burke's 
looked down on "low" concerns, was above mere reason, and was 
astrally removed from trading in "pepper and coffee, calico and to- 
bacco." Burke's philosophy was what Jefferson elsewhere called the 
"Gothic" habit of mind, looking backward for its ideals, profoundly 
distrustful of keeping constitutions flexible to fit the changing needs 
of life. Truly, if Jefferson was not apprised of Burke's position when 
he wrote his forceful letter, he would have had to invent one like it 
for the sake of perfect opposition. 

Jefferson soon had the opportunity, in an American setting, to 
endorse Paine's sharp attack on Burke in order to combat the develop- 
ing opposition to true republicanism. After having read Paine's tract, 
Jefferson gave his blessings to the publication in a note that he in- 
tended to be private. As he wrote to Madison, he "was pleased to find 
that it was to be reprinted here, that something was at length to be 
publicly said against the political heresies which had of late sprung 
up among us, not doubting but that our citizens would rally again 
round the standard of Common Sense." 32 To Jefferson's great aston- 
ishment, however, the pamphlet appeared with his note employed for 
flamboyant advertisement. This indiscretion on the part of the print- 
er was the origin of the open break between Jefferson and John 
Adams, since the "political heresies" referred to in Jefferson's note 
plainly characterized Adams's "Discourses on Davila." In the ensuing 
criticisms Jefferson and Paine were coupled; to which Jefferson re- 

32 Jefferson to Madison, Philadelphia, May 9, 1791. Writings (Ford), V, 331. 

The Earth Belongs to the Living 297 

plied: "I certainly merit the same, for I profess the same principles." 33 


The gist of Jefferson's letter is his philosophy that laws and consti- 
tutions must be revised in the light of our reason and experience for 
the peace and good of mankind. He returned to the thesis that the 
earth belongs to the living on numerous occasions throughout his 
life, the latest when he was in his eightieth year. 34 His last letter on 
this subject is notable for the clarity of its statement, the first signifi- 
cant omission of the time limits which he had used to define a gener- 
ation, and the momentous revision of his original letter by the incor- 
poration of Madison's principle of tacit assent. 

That our Creator made the earth for the use of the living and 
not of the dead; that those who exist not can have no use nor right 
in it, no authority or power over it; that one generation of men 
cannot foreclose or burden its use to another, which comes to it 
in its own right and by the same divine beneficence; that a pre- 
ceding generation cannot bind a succeeding one by its laws or 
contracts; these deriving their obligation from the will of the exist- 
ing majority, and that majority being removed by death, another 
comes in its place with a will equally free to make its own laws 
and contracts; these are axioms so self-evident that no explana- 
tion can make them plainer; for he is not to be reasoned with who 
says that non-existence can control existence, or that nothing can 
move something. They are axioms also pregnant with salutary 
consequences. The laws of civil society indeed for the encourage- 
ment of industry, give the property of the parent to his family on 
his death, and in most civilized countries permit him even to give 
it, by testament, to whom he pleases. And it is also found more 
convenient to suffer the laws of our predecessors to stand on our 
implied assent, as if positively reenacted, until the existing major- 
ity positively repeals them. But this does not lessen the right of 
that majority to repeal whenever a change of circumstances or of 

3& Jefferson to James Monroe, Philadelphia, July 10, 1791. Ibid., V, 352. 

34 There are a number of letters in which Jefferson renewed the theme that 
the earth belongs to the living. The most important are: to John Eppes in 1813* 
to Samuel Kercheval in 1816, and to Thomas Earle in 1828. 


will calls for it. Habit alone confounds what is civil practice 
with natural right. . . , 35 

In summing up, thirty-four years after the original letter to Madi- 
son, Jefferson reaffirmed his great theme and, by tacit assent, joined 
with Madison in a realistic appraisal of its operational meaning. 

35 Jefferson to Thomas Earle, Monticello, September 24, 1823. Writings 
(Memorial), xv, 470-1. 


Early in the morning of New Year's Day, 1802, Parson John Leland 
proudly drove his heavily laden sleigh up to the front door of the 
President's House. For three weeks this Baptist preacher and his 
companion, Darius Brown, had been on the road to Washington from 
their home town of Cheshire, in the Berkshire hills of western Massa- 
chusetts. Over crisp and sparkling snow they had slowly traveled 
through one village after another, and in each had been loudly huz- 
zaed by the farmers and mechanics whose votes in 1800 had helped 
elect Thomas Jefferson the "People's President/* The Parson had spun 
yarns to Darius about Revolutionary days in Virginia, where he had 
fought not only for Mr. Jefferson's Declaration of Independence but 
for his world-famous Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom. He had 
talked about his own present struggle for religious liberty against 
the tax-supported Congregational clergy of Massachusetts. And all 
the way to the Federal City he had zealously guarded his precious 
cargo, a "Mammoth Cheese" which the people of Cheshire had lov- 
ingly made for Mr. Jefferson "the greatest cheese in America, for 
the greatest man in America/' 

John Leland was a plain man, a pious, self-educated preacher- 
farmer. The chances are that he had never heard of the medieval tale 
of Our Lady's Tumbler. Yet there was something of the medieval 
acrobat's devotional spirit in the Parson and his fellow fanners of 
Cheshire. They had long been restive under the rule of the Hamilto- 
nian Federalists, purse-proud and class-proud aristocrats who openly 
derided their Jeffersonian faith in the decency and dignity of the 
common man. When the glorious news came that Jefferson and his 
Democratic-Republicans had triumphed, the citizens of Cheshire had 
rejoiced with rank-and file Americans from Maine to Georgia, fired 

From The Virginia Quarterly Review, Spring 1943. Reprinted by permission. 



their muskets, and sung such spirited songs as "The People's Friend" 
and the very popular "Jefferson and Liberty" 

Hail! long expected glorious day 
Illustrious, memorable morn; 
That freedom's fabric from decay 
Secures for millions yet unborn. 

But they had not been content with singing thanks and praises. 
They wished to express their joy in some tangible way. Now there 
was one thing the little town of Cheshire did supremely well, and 
that was the making of cheese. Why not, said Parson Leland, present 
Mr. Jefferson with the biggest and best cheese the world has ever 
seen? They agreed that every man and woman who owned a cow 
would give for this cheese all the milk yielded on a certain day. Not 
one drop of milk was to come from a Federalist cow! 

A huge cider press was fitted up to make it in, and on the appointed 
day the whole community turned out with pails and tubs of curd, 
the girls and women in their best gowns and ribbons, the men in their 
Sunday-go-to-meeting coats and clean shirt-collars. The cheese was 
put to press with prayers by Parson Leland and the singing of hymns 
by the men and women of Cheshire. When it was well dried and put 
on the parson's sleigh, it was as large as a burr millstonie and 
weighed mark you 1,235 pounds! 

Now it had arrived at its destination and there on the steps of the 
President's House was Thomas Jefferson himself, smiling and with 
hand outstretched. 

When Mr. Jefferson shook hands with a man, so people related, 
he did so in a manner that said as plainly as words could, *T arn your 
friend." His reddish hair had grayed, yet his slow smile and soft 
manner were as gracious as when Leland had last seen him in Vir- 
ginia. This man of quiet dignity had filled the most important posts 
at home and abroad, yet he was "without any tincture of pomp, osten- 
tation, or pride," and one could speak as freely with him as with any 
farmer in the hills of Berkshire or of Alberaarle. Tall, thin, dressed 
in his customary suit of black, the Philosopher-President ( according 
to a Federalist observer ) on that day struck a new note in Jeffersonian 
innovation. He had "shoes on that closed tight round his ancles, laced 
up with neat leathern strings, and absolutely without buckles, con- 

A Peppercorn for Mr. Jefferson 301 

sidering them as superfluous and anti-republican, especially when a 
man has strings." 

Delighted with the simplicity and warmth of his welcome, Leland 
and Darius presented him with the Mammoth Cheese "in behalf of 
all Cheshire/' The Parson then read a prepared Address, a precious 
bit of homespun Americana. In it the citizens of Cheshire avowed 
their loyalty to a Constitution which the Federalists had tried to 
subvert, and thanked "that Supreme Father of the Universe, who . . . 
has raised up a Jefferson for this critical day, to defend Republican- 
ism and baffle all the arts of Aristocracy. 

"Sir, we have attempted to prove our love to our President not in 
words alone, but in deed and truth. With this Address we send you a 
Cheese, by the hands of Messrs. John Leland and Darius Brown, as a 
peppercorn of the esteem which we bear to our chief magistrate, and 
as a sacrifice to Republicanism. It is not the last stone in the Bastille, 
nor is it of any consequence as an article of worth; but as a free will 
offering, we hope it will be received. The Cheese was not made by 
his lordship, for his sacred majesty; nor with a view to gain dignified 
titles or lucrative offices; but by the personal labour of free born 
farmers (without a single slave to assist), for an elective President 
of a free people; with the only view of casting a mite into the scale of 
democracy. . . . 

"May God long preserve your life and health for a blessing to the 
United States, and the world at large." 

This peppercorn of esteem ( small in itself compared to the love 
common people everywhere had for him), this gigantic democratic 
"mite," was accepted by Mr. Jefferson with heartfelt thanks. He had 
the great cheese placed in the East Room of the White House, a large 
and unfinished audience-hall which he that day christened "the Mam- 
moth Room." The designation appealed to his sense of humor, since 
Federalist editors for years had jeered at his scientific interest in 
fossil bones and often called him "Mr. Mammoth" and "the Mammoth 
of Democracy." 

At noon that day the President held his usual New Year's reception 
or levee. The scarlet-coated Marine Band played "Jefferson and Lib- 
erty" as citizens of Washington, government officials, army and navy 
officers, turbaned ladies, gold-braicled diplomats, and blanketed 
Miami and Pottawatomie chieftains a various and brilliant com- 
panygathered to pay the compliments of the season to Mr. Jefferson. 


It was a proud day for the Parson and his friend Darius. The good- 
humored President greeted each guest with dignified simplicity and 
invited them, one and all, to go to the Mammoth Room and partake 
of the Mammoth Cheese. First he cut out a huge wedge to be sent 
back to the donors, and then everybody sampled the cheese. 

Republicans pronounced it the biggest and best ever. Federalists 
said the flavor was only so-so. Privately they grumbled about "this 
monument to human weakness and folly," and thought it strange that 
a preacher should have presented it to a man who ranked first on the 
Tory list of public enemies: Tom Jefferson, Tom Paine, and Tom the 
Devil. Manasseh Cutler, congressman and Congregationalist minister 
from eastern Massachusetts, was chagrined at the spirit of democratic 
unrest in his own state symbolized by this "poor, ignorant, illiterate, 
clownish preacher/' Federalist editors only further increased the 
President's popularity by ridiculing this cheese-monger adulation of 
Thomas Jeff erson, that wicked man who had inspired delusive hopes 
of a poor man's Millenium among "our American peasantry/' 

The Parson and Darius stayed on a few days to see the sights of the 
new Federal City. Before they'left for Cheshire, Mr. Jefferson with 
characteristic delicacy and tact persuaded them to accept a sum of 
money far above the market value of the cheese. It was his rule never 
to accept presents while in office, and this money the Parson might 
expend in Cheshire as he saw fit. 

And before they drove off in their sleigh for home ( a journey on 
which Leland was to preach in almost every village ) , Mr. Jefferson, 
members of Congress, and the people of Washington went to the 
Capitol on Sunday to hear the Parson preach one of his rough-hewn 
and effective sermons. In the spirit of his Cheshire Address and not 
without an oblique allusion to President Jefferson and what he sym- 
bolized to the average American, the democratic Parson took for his 
text, "And behold a greater than Solomon is here." 


John Leland and his fellow Americans could be pardoned for 
thinking that the Millennium had arrived. For their young Republic 
under Jefferson enjoyed peace in a world at war, and an unprece- 
dented, widely diffused prosperity. The People's President had put 

A Peppercorn for Mr. Jefferson 303 

the Argosy of state on a true republican tack, had done away with 
ceremonies of a dangerous monarchical tendency, and once again 
opened the doors of hospitality to refugees from Old World tyranny. 
He had abolished all internal taxes. At the same time he had drastic- 
ally reduced the public debt and piled up a surplus in the Treasury. 
No President before or since could ask his fellow countrymen, as he 
did in his second Inaugural Address: "What farmer, what mechanic, 
what laborer, ever sees a tax-gatherer of the United States?" 

To crown all, his magnificent Louisiana Purchase of 1803 doubled 
the area of the Republic, removed foreign control of its vital Missis- 
sippi outlet, and made possible its greatness as a continental power. 
A vast empire as large as and more fertile than the Republic itself 
had been acquired, peaceably, and without taxation, for the tariff 
revenues at New Orleans alone would soon pay for the Purchase. It 
was, as Jefferson modestly said ? a transaction replete with the bless- 
ings of freedom and equal laws for unborn millions. 

In 1804 he was re-elected by Parson Leland's Massachusetts and 
eveiy state in the Union except Connecticut and Delaware. A few 
die-hard Federalists continued to attack him, and often most scur- 
rilously. ""This nionied corps" of the great cities, "this mass of anti- 
civism," as he termed them, comprised only one twenty-fifth of the 
people, yet controlled three-fourths of the newspapers. With char- 
acteristic good humor he declared that the Federalist press was very 
useful: "It is like the chimneys to our dwellings; it carries off the 
smoke of party which might otherwise stifle the nation." The Fed- 
eralists made little headway against the People's President, who in 
1808 disappointed thousands of Americans by refusing a third term 
in the presidency. 

"Rarely ever did pxince rule more absolutely than T. J.," growled 
a Federalist near the end of his presidency, still complaining of the 
people's adulation and the subserviency of a "rubber-stamp" Con- 
gress. "He can manage everything in the national legislature by his 

The man who wielded the rod of power, great as a statesman, adept 
as a politician, was a very practical idealist who translated democratic 
faith into democratic practice. He devoted his whole life to the wel- 
fare of his fellow man, as legislator, governor, congressman, diplomat, 
secretary of state, vice president, and president; as social reformer, 
inventor, scientist, architect, and educator. His many talents and 


great services have been generally acknowledged. But most histo- 
rians, perhaps awed by the breadth and depth of his accomplish- 
ments., have failed to get beyond the impressive outer works to the 
warm, affectionate, and charming inner personality. They do a great 
injustice to Mr. Jefferson to treat him as a mere intellectual machine, 
or a political symbol. Some have even denied him a sense. of humor! 

A delightful play of humor and wit enlivens his thousands of letters. 
He loved to tell anecdotes of his much-admired friend, Dr. Benjamin 
Franklin, and of Paris of the Ancien Regime. On occasion he could 
tell a typically American tall story that a Davy Crockett or a Seba 
Smith would have appreciated. His intimate friend and lieutenant, 
James Madison, was in private life "a social, jovial, and good- 
humored companion, full of anecdote, sometimes rather of a loose 
description/' During these Washington years Secretaiy Madison fur- 
ther endeared himself to his chief by relating the latest story or bon 
mot, many of them concocted by Federalists at Jefferson's expense, 
and making the President laugh until the tears came. 

It was a very human President that John Leland and Darius Brown, 
and his Washington neighbors and friends, had the good fortune to 
meet, whether at his New Year's levee, his dinner table, or during 
his walks and rides about the new Federal City. 

"There is a degree of ease in Mr. Jefferson's company that every- 
one seems to feel and to enjoy/' said Benjamin H. Latrobe, the archi- 
tect of the Capitol. This was especially true at the President's din- 
ners. He had done away with pompous state dinners, but he gave 
nearly every day small dinner parties for ten or twelve. Mr. Latrobe's 
description of a dinner at the President's on a November afternoon 
in 1802 is typical of many contemporary accounts. Jefferson's two 
daughters, Mrs. Randolph and Mrs. Eppes, were there, having come 
up from their homes in Virginia. Present also were Jarnes and Dolly 
Madison, Mr. and Mrs. Carter from Virginia, Levi Lincoln, the Attor- 
ney General, Dr. William Thornton, the head of the Patent Office, 
and Mr. Jefferson's secretary, Meriwether Lewis. 

They had a magnificent venison dinner, prepared by Monsieur 
Julien, the French chef. The excellent wines varied from rare old 

A Peppercorn for Mr. Jefferson 305 

sherry to champagne. Mr. Jefferson said little at dinner beside attend- 
ing to the filling of plates, "which he did with great ease and grace 
for a philosopher." But when the cloth was removed he became very 
talkative, and the conversation was most agreeable and spirited: 
"Literature, wit, and a little business, with a great deal of miscella- 
neous remarks on agriculture and building, filled every minute." 
When Martha Randolph, at the request of Mr. Carter, drank a glass 
of wine with him, Mr. Jefferson smilingly told his daughter that she 
was breaking his law against drinking healths at table. "She said she 
was not acquainted with it, that it must have been passed during her 
absence. He replied that three laws governed his table no healths, 
no politics, and no restraint/' 

The ladies of Washington were especially charmed by his hand- 
some way of entertaining. His compliments reminded them that he 
had spent five years at the court of Louis XVI. One lady was once 
congratulating herself that she never felt the cold in winter. 

"Go where I will," she said, "I can always fancy it's summer." 

Bowing as if he were back at Versailles, Mr. Jefferson replied: 
"And whenever you come under my roof, Madam, I partake your 

On one occasion a rather obtuse lady caused his dinner guests to 
gasp in astonishment. The Federalists for years had been satirizing 
Jefferson for leaving Monticello during the Revolution when a British 
force seized it. Instead of remaining there to be captured, like some 
foolish Don Quixote, he had taken refuge on Carter's Mountain. The 
name of this place had somehow been connected in the woman's 
mind with that of the President. Wishing to make conversation, she 
asked him if he did not live near Carter's Mountain. 

"Very close," he said, "it is the adjoining mountain to Monticello." 

"I suppose it is a very convenient pleasant place?" persisted the 
lady, not noticing her husband's frowning red face or the efforts of 
the other guests to conceal their amusement. 

"Why, yes," answered Mr. Jefferson smiling, "I certainly found it so 
in wartime/ 

At his small dinner parties for gentlemen only, Jefferson's humor 
sometimes took a broader turn. Like his friend Madison or any other 
eighteenth-century gentleman he could appreciate a story reminis- 
cent of "Tom Jones" or "Tristram Shandy." 

Present at one of these dinners were Latrobe and three other 


gentlemen, "all men of science." The conversation, in deference to 
Latrobe, was turned to architecture. Then Jefferson skillfully led the 
talk to the experiments being made on the nature of light; to his 
friend, Dr. Joseph Priestly, the discoverer of oxygen; European emi- 
gration to America; the culture of the vine and American wines; and 
then to a favorite topic, the domestic manners of the Parisians. 

"By this time the President became very entertaining," wrote 
Latrobe to his wife, and he told one of his amusing Franklin anec- 
dotes. At a party given by Dr. Franklin in Paris a certain u Mrs. M." 
was making herself ridiculous by correcting the Doctor's wretched 
French, when her own was not much better. At that point the Doc- 
tor's grandson, Temple Franklin, entered the room, said Mr. Jeffer- 
son, "and, in one of his freaks of assurance, kissed the lady who 
stood nearest the door, and then went round the room saluting each 
of them, and last of all he kissed Mrs. Jay, Mrs. Jay, not being used to 
such gallantry, blushed so deeply that Dr. Franklin, observing it, 
asked why she blushed. Mrs. M. immediately answered, "Parcequ'il 
a lui baise le demere instead of la derniere." 

The President can "both hear and relate humorous stories as well 
as any man of social feelings/' remarked Dr. Samuel L. Mitchill, a 
gay and sociable New York congressman, editor of the Medical Repos- 
itory, and an eminent scientist whose universal knowledge had 
prompted Mr. Jefferson to nickname him "the Congressional Dic- 
tionary/' It is doubtful whether Dr. Mitchill fully appreciated his 
stories at the expense of medical men, even though they were told 
in a characteristic tone of playful raillery. One of these was directed 
at a mutual friend, Dr. Benjamin Rush, who, for all his many virtues, 
had unfortunately popularized the practice of blood-letting. Once on 
a journey Jefferson had stopped at a tavern where the landlady re- 
turned from the funeral of a promising young man. The good woman 
wept and lamented his loss at great length, then, finally wiping her 
eyes, she said: "At least we have the consolation that the doctors did 
everything possible for himhe was bled six and twenty times." 

For Federalist congressmen no less than Republican the President's 
House was an oasis of good food, good wines, and good humor. In 
the crude and sprawling city of Washington they were confined to 
stuffy boarding houses, "like bears, brutalized and stupefied . . . 
from hearing nothing but politics from morning to night," Men who 
lived on "hog, homminy, and hoe-cake" did not complain with sour 

A Peppercorn for Mr. Jefferson 307 

old Patrick Henry that "Tom Jefferson has abjured his native vittles." 
A French dinner at Mr. Jefferson's, prepared by the incomparable 
Julien, was well worth the hazard o being overturned or mired on 
Pennsylvania Avenue, "when one can neither go backwards or for- 
wards, and either loses one's shoes or one's patience." 

The Reverend Manasseh Cutler, although displeased at not being 
called upon to say a blessing, was fascinated by "His Democratic 
Majesty" and his many foreign "jimcracks" a strange soup called 
bouilli, ice cream enclosed in warm pastry, and "a pie called maca- 
roni, which appears to be a rich crust filled with the strillions of 
onions." Senator Plumer of New Hampshire noted eight different 
kinds of wine, including a superb Tokay costing a guinea a bottle! 
Their host, as usual, was "very social and communicative." Plumer 
wondered whether Mr. Jefferson was really in earnest when, noting 
that many New Englanders thought horse-racing was immoral, he 
made an elaborate defense of the sport: horse-racing improved the 
breed, and the attendant betting was less injurious to the Southern 
people than the heavy gambling at cards and dice in Calvinistic 

"But Mr. Jefferson tells large stories," remarked John .Quincy 
Adams of Massachusetts, a man so sober and precise that the Presi- 
dent could never resist the impulse to startle him. Surely the Presi- 
dent was mistaken when he said that once in Paris the thermometer 
stood, not for a single day but for six weeks, at twenty degrees below 
zero; or that when he went to Paris he left in Virginia some ripe 
pears, sewed up in tow bags, and upon his return almost six years 
later found them perfectly preserved self-candied! "You never can 
be an hour in this man's company without something of the marvel- 
lous, like these stories." 


During Mr. Jefferson's eight years in the Federal City the people 
of Washington and Georgetown developed a warm affection for him 
as a neighbor and a friend. They appreciated his interest in every 
civic enterprise and his generous contributions whether toward a 
market-house, a circulating library, a new church or academy, or to 
the poor. His private charities ( amounting in one year alone to nearly 


a thousand dollars) were unpublicized, but Washingtonians knew 
that every time he returned from Monticello poor people again began 
their calls upon him, and were never disappointed. 

The President was always accessible to every citizen or visitor. 
When guests dropped in he would come out of his study in his com- 
fortable slippers and everyday dress, quite unlike the black suit he 
wore on formal occasions. On one day, for example, when he greeted 
an unexpected guest he was wearing "a blue coat, a thick gray- 
coloured hairy waistcoat, with a red under-waistcoat lapped over it, 
green velveteen breeches with pearl buttons, yarn stockings, and 
slippers down at the heels; his appearance being very much like that 
of a tall, raw-boned farmer." 

That study was his refuge and his joy. There he had his books, his 
carpenter's tools, his palette and paints, his drafting board, his sci- 
entific instruments, maps, globes, and gardening tools. In the window 
recesses were stands for his roses and geraniums, among which was 
suspended the cage of his favorite mocking bird. Often he would open 
the cage and the bird would fly about, perch on his shoulder and 
take food from his lips, and sometimes hop upstairs after him to his 
bedroom. "How he loved this bird! How he loved his flowers! He 
could not live without something to love," said a Washington friend, 
Mrs. Samuel Harrison Smith; "and in the absence of his darling 
grandchildren, his bird and his flowers became the objects of tender 

Mrs. Smith, a great friend of the family and beloved by the grand- 
children, who were all too seldom at the President's House, exceed- 
ingly admired his flowers, and especially his geraniums. But the 
mocking bird was as much a favorite with Etienne Lemaire, the 
President's steward, as with Mr. Jefferson himself. Whenever the 
President was at Monticello, Lernaire took affectionate care of it, 
and he was proud that it could not only imitate all the birds of the 
woods but could sing popular American, Scottish, and French tunes. 

Lemaire was the head of a household establishment of a dozen 
servants, all of them devoted to the President: Julian and Madame 
Julien, Joseph Dougherty, the coachman and general handyman, and 
Mrs, Dougherty, Edward Maher, Maria Murphy, and the others. The 
feeling that members of the household entertained toward Mr. Jeffer- 
son was perhaps best expressed by Isaac A. Coles, his private sec- 
retary during the latter years of his presidency. "His conduct is 

A Peppercorn for Mr. Jefferson 309 

marked by so much delicacy, and his conversation is so frank, so 
open, so unreserved, that the great Executive Officer is constantly 
lost in the Man, and I declare to you that some of the most delightful 
moments of my life have been passed in his company. . , . From the 
President I receive nothing but kindness, and in truth I love him." 

For eight years the people of Washington had seen Mr. Jefferson 
going about the city, mounted on his magnificent horse Wildair 
riding on a Sunday to divine services, where he loved to sing old 
psalm tunes; to Theophilus Holt's nursery gardens on the Eastern 
Branch or Mr. Main's gardens in Georgetown; to the stores on the 
Avenue and F Street; to the Navy Yard, the Marine Barracks, the 
Great Falls of the Potomac, or on a botanizing expedition along the 
banks of Rock Creek. He had never missed a fall meeting of the 
Washington Jockey Club Races. And he had enjoyed at the little 
theatre on Pennsylvania Avenue such plays as the comedy, "I'll Tell 
You What, or, An Undescribable Something," the farce, "All the 
World's a Stage, or the Spouting Butler," and the favorite burlesque 
afterpiece, that "most Tragical, Comical, Operatical Tragedy that 
ever was Tragedized by any Comical Company of Tragedians, called 
'The Life and Death of Tom Thumb the Great' "-his laughter and 
his delight smoothing out the lines in his face placed there by his 
pi*esidental worries and labors. 

When the time came for him to leave the President's House, there 
were addresses from all over the nation expressing gratitude for his 
forty years of services to his country and to mankind. The people of 
the Federal City made farewell calls upon him, and in their public 
addresses, their "peppercorns of esteem," struck a personal note. The 
citizens of Georgetown praised the domestic and social virtues of a 
neighbor whom posterity would honor "among the immortal bene- 
factors of man." The Tammany Society of Washington, in their part- 
ing address to the author of the Declaration of Independence and 
the "Grand Sachem" of the seventeen American tribes, expressed the 
"spontaneous effusions" of men who had each passing day for eight 
years examined and approved bis conduct. "The world knows you as 
a philosopher and a philanthropist," declared the citizens of Wash- 
ington; "the American people know you as a patriot and statesman; 
we know you, in addition to all this, as a man. And . . . there is not 
one among us whose predominant feeling at this moment is not that 
of affection." 


In his felicitous manner Mr. Jefferson bade farewell to his fellow 
citizens, and prepared to retire to his family, his farms, and those 
tranquil pursuits of science which had ever been his supreme delight. 
Characteristic, and most felicitous, was the parting blessing he sent to 
Mrs. Samuel Harrison Smith, just before he rode back to Monticello: 

"Th: Jefferson presents his respectful salutations to Mrs. Smith, 
and sends her the Geranium she expressed a willingness to receive. 
It is in very bad condition, having been neglected latterly, as not 
intended to be removed. He cannot give it his parting blessing more 
effectually than by consigning it to the nourishing hands of Mrs, 
Smith. If plants have sensibility, as the analogy of their organization 
with ours seems to indicate, it cannot but be proudly sensible of her 
fostering attentions. Of his regrets at parting with the society of 
Washington, a very sensible portion attaches to Mrs. Smith, whose 
friendship he has particularly valued. Her promise to visit Monti- 
cello is some consolation; and he can assure her she will be received 
with open arms and hearts by the whole family. He prays her to 
accept the homage of his affectionate attachment and respect." 


This is an ignorant year 

Within a cruel time. 

If he were here 

We might rebuild 

The firm wall raised by him, 

The column felled. 


The Tomb of Thomas Jefferson (1940) 

Nature did not intend Thomas Jefferson for a hero. Temperament, 
physique, and background were all against it. If destiny had not 
plucked him from the ivory tower he built at Monticello, and hurled 
him into the thick of public turmoil, Jefferson would have lived and 
died a bookish, fastidious Virginia squire. He might have become, 
more easily than a hero, a writer of belles-lettres, a college don, or an 
amateur philosopher sunning himself on the leeward side of John 
Locke. He is like no other American leader, although there are faint 
resemblances in Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt of 
which their friends have made the most. 

Certainly Jefferson the idol was not hewn from the same stone as 
Washington, Israel Putnam, Francis Marion. He had a sedentary 
man's shrinking from military discipline. The drums and trumpets 
passed him by. His only sight of advancing redcoats was through a 
telescope, from a knoll near Monticello called Carter's Mountain, 
in June, 1781, and in later years his enemies were quick to assert that 
his headlong flight after that vision spoke for itself. He was a man 

From The Hero in America: A Chronicle of Hero-Worship, by Dixon Wecter. 
Copyright 1941 by Charles Scribner's Sons. Reprinted by permission. 
Footnotes omitted. 



of exquisite perceptions, an artist with nerves attuned to the age of 
sensibility. At the death of his wife he fell into a swoon so deep that 
his life was feared for; those who disliked Jefferson did not hesitate 
to call him "womanish" and "feline/ 9 

Loose-jointed in appearance and in talk lacking Franklin's homely 
vigor without achieving the majesty of Washington "Long Tom" 
Jefferson wore his elegance of mind and raiment with an insouciance 
that some misjudged for sloppiness. As President he received a British 
Minister in slippers and dressing gown ( a democratic style that Huey 
Long once tried to copy, in receiving a German dignitary). Even at 
his inauguration Jefferson had quietly walked from Conrad's 
boarding-house to take the oath in the Senate chamber of the un- 
finished Capitol; though legend persistently repeats that he arrived 
on horseback, dismounted casually, and hitched his horse to the 
"palisades" of the Capitol fence. He owned ten thousand acres and 
two hundred slaves, and recoiled from courting the masses or play- 
ing the political bully-boy. Yet he became "the People's friend/' a 
high-handed imperialist, and a saber-rattler before the Barbary 
pirates. For all his agrarian background, he was far less the full- 
blooded country gentleman than were Washington and Jackson, He 
raised tobacco but never used it, never kept a playing-card in his 
house, bred fine horses but never loved the race-track. Duelling did 
not tempt him. He drank no spirits, but was fond of French wines 
and cookeryone of those gentlemen, as Patrick Henry said, who 
"abjured their native victuals," He was virtually a vegetarian, as he 
told Doctor Ulleyandj like most vegetarians, proved to be a ter- 
rifying idealist, tinged with fanaticism. His mores were not those of 
the carnivorous mammal. And his mind was a brilliant, delicate, 
complex mechanism. In fact, as Henry Adams remarked, all our 
early Presidents save Jefferson can be drawn with *'a few broad 
strokes of the brush" but the master of Monticello, with his shifting 
lights and shades, nuances and translucencies, defies even the finest 
pencil. Did the People ever have a more extraordinary friend? 

Let us see how Jefferson came to be a hero. Born in 1743 among 
the red clay hills of Albemarle County, Virginia, he sprang from 
good stock. His mother, Jane Randolph Jefferson, made him cousin 
to numerous purse-proud Tuckahoes. Jefferson affected to pass 
lightly over the old pedigree of the Randolphs, "to which let every 
one ascribe the faith and merit he chooses," and to stress the bonne- 

Thomas Jeferson, The Gentle Radical 313 

spun simplicity of his father, Peter, whose "education had been quite 
neglected." With this help, legend has made Peter Jefferson into a 
clodhopper, stressing the democratic rather than the patrician heri- 
tage of his son. Late research, however, has shown that Peter Jef- 
ferson owned a great acreage of rich land, and five overseers, served 
as vestryman and justice of the peace and sheriff, and displayed a 
skill in map-making that bears witness to his cultivation of hand and 
brain. He was no Thomas Lincoln. 

At William and Mary College young Thomas Jefferson was some- 
thing of a bookworm, who as his classmate John Page recalled "could 
tear himself away from his dearest friends and fly to his studies." A 
century later, drawing heavily upon imagination, John Esten Cooke 
wrote a novel called The 'Youth of Jefferson, or a Chronicle of College 
Scrapes. Tom or "Sir Asinus," here figures as a tall, freckled, sandy- 
haired lad with a prankish temper. Thinking he is pursued by the 
proctor, he flies down the corridor in a faded dressing-gown, and 
barricades himself gun in hand, crying out: "Beware! I am armed to 
the teeth, and rather than be captured I will die in defence of my 
rights namely, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness under 
difficulties!" (The mature Jefferson did not include "property" among 
the inalienables; that belonged to Hamilton's point of view.) 

"Under temptations and difficulties/' young Jefferson wrote, "I 
would ask myself what would Doctor Small, Mr. Wythe, Peyton 
Randolph, do in this situation?" His three youthful heroes were a 
Scotch mathematician, a jurist and college tutor, and a tidewater 
gentleman of Jefferson's own blue blood. To the end of his life, 
indeed, Jefferson's ideal was blended of two types, the scholar and 
the intellectual aristocrat, which have rarely been popular with the 
masses of Americans. It was the dash of liberalism which Jefferson 
himself added to the beau ideal that made him an unforgettable 
favorite. Meanwhile, Jefferson gained notice at the Virginia bar and 
in 1769 was chosen by his native county for the House of Burgesses. 
He fell under the spell of Patrick Henry, who "appeared to me to 
speak as Homer wrote." Sympathetic with Henry's hostility to the 
Crown, Jefferson was still cool enough to perceive the orator's defects 
in logic and learning. Jefferson came early to distrust the spell of 
rhetoric. In part it may have been a rationalization: a weak throat 
and unconquerable diffidence in large groups kept Jefferson from 
ever becoming himself a spell-binder. His pen was mightier than 


his voice. Three silent men Franklin, Washington, Jefferson were 
the first great idols of the Republic: the age of silver tongue and 
spread eagle, of Webster and Hayne, Grady and Bryan, was yet 

Quickly gaining note as a pamphleteer for Independence, Jef- 
ferson was sent as a Virginia delegate to the Continental Congress. 
New Englanders liked him as a penman, even as they admired Wash- 
ington as a soldier. "Though a silent member of Congress, he was so 
prompt, frank, explicit and decisive upon committees and in con- 
versation," wrote John Adams, **. . . that he soon seized upon my 
heart," This popularity was very important to Jefferson's budding 
career. In June, 1776, as a tribute to his fine literary gift, legal train- 
ing, and eagerness to work, he was named first of a committee of 
five to draft the Declaration of Independence. 

Jefferson was not then aware of the world-shaking import of his 
document. Later he took it retrospectively in his stride, as it were. 
In the face of contrary facts he stated so vehemently that the Declara- 
tion had been signed by Congress on the Fourth of July even to the 
extent of imagining a "paper" draft signed on that date, when con- 
fronted with the parchment undoubtedly engrossed on August 2 
that indulgent posterity, in the main, has let Jefferson have his way. 
With due respect to his fellow-committeemen, Jefferson was truly 
the author of the Declaration the proud boast of his tombstone, and 
his supreme claim among the Founding Fathers. If he is something 
less than the Divinely inspired creator of this noble document whose 
theories, spirit, and even phrases are the products of a long evolu- 
tionhe is surely the amanuensis of Americanism. To Lee in 1825 
he wrote that the Declaration "was intended to be an expression of 
the American mind." Its clarity, vigor, beauty, and fighting affirma- 
tion of the democratic faith endear Jefferson forever to his country- 
men. No one else could have seen so well or expressed so finely the 
ultimate, as well as the immediate, aims of the new American spiiit 
It was addressed to the people. Hence it omitted a few underlying 
subtleties. Chief of these was the vital distinction Jefferson saw be- 
tween natural rights ( those which man can exercise "without the aid 
of exterior assistance," such as freedom of thought and speech) and 
civil rights (like gaining and holding property, in which men agree 
to abdicate a measure of individualism, and to act only "under the 
guarantee of society"). This was the reason why property was not 

Thomas Jefferson, The Gentle Radical 315 

one of the "inherent and inalienable rights/* since it lay under the 
hand of social control. Jefferson's individualism was one of rights 
plus duties; Hamilton's tended to stress property rights above other 
matters, and paved the way for that ideal later called "rugged in- 
dividualism" a term, said Herbert Hoover in 1934, which "I should 
be proud to have invented," but which to others meant an industrial 
philosophy active in the creation of slums and economic misery, 
while it destroyed the green countryside and the domestic handi- 
crafts that Jefferson loved. But Jefferson did not put his distinction 
into writing until after he had quit Philadelphia and gone back home, 
"being alone and wanting amusement," and it remained unpublished 
for more than a century after his death. This was typical of the 
casualness of Jefferson. 

After firing the salvo of the Declaration, Jefferson returned to 
Virginia, convinced that his next duty was to sow the liberal seed at 
home by abolishing entails, revising the criminal code, setting up 
free schools, and cleaving Church from State. Jefferson had no 
stomach for soldiering; his aptitude lay in "mental fight." Certain 
keen partisans of Washington, Hamilton, and the Federalists have 
never forgiven Jefferson for failing to expose himself to hunger, frost- 
bite, and bloodshed in the cause to which he had rallied his country- 
men. The late Senator Beveridge, biographer of John Marshall, by 
playing up a phrase in one of Washington's letters, imagines the 
shivering soldiers in their smoky huts at Valley Forge thinking of the 
penman of their faith, asking each other with chattering teeth, 
"Where is Jefferson?" Yet there is BO real evidence that Jefferson was 
looked upon at this time as a quitter. He was craven only in the 
subtler sense of T. E. Hulme's saying, that "a non-muscular man is 
inevitably physically a coward." 

In 1779 Jefferson succeeded Patrick Henry as Governor of Vir- 
ginia. He did not make a good wartime governor, as even loyal Vir- 
ginians admit. He was too timorous about overstepping his strict 
legal rights, even in an emergency, and in practical matters his 
judgment was undeveloped. And Jefferson had the sudden violence 
of the sedentary man. With his four thousand British prisoners he 
was alternately too soft and too hard at first arranging musicales and 
philosophical causeries for them and opening his library to the 
officers, and then upon hearing of Americans abused on board British 
prison-ships, loading his captives with irons and preparing to treat 


them as common criminals until Washington intervened. In later 
years he showed the same bursts of violence: demanding that Aaron 
Burr be hanged out of hand, and in the War of 1812 proposing that 
if the British touched our coasts "we must burn the city of London, 
not by expensive fleets or congreve rockets, but by employing an 
hundred or two Jack-the-painters, whom nakedness, famine, despera- 
tion and hardened vice, will abundantly furnish among themselves." 
This is a strain in Jefferson's nature, supposedly mild and calm, which 
has never colored bds legend and even been ignored by most of his 
biographers. Hero-worship and symbol-making call for simplifica- 
tions, in dealing with a man so complex as Jefferson. 

In the late spring of 1781, with Virginia's treasury bankrupt and 
the British overrunning the Old Dominion, Jefferson desperately 
prepared to resign in favor of a military governor. At that juncture, 
the redcoats swooped down on Monticello and would have caught 
him but for the warning of Jack Jouett, "the Southern -Revere." The 
head of a government should avoid capture by the enemy if he can, 
as many European sovereigns and premiers have lately decided. A 
statesman who runs away may govern some other day. No discredit 
should arise if he has first done his best-as Tom Paine pointed out in 
1805, in defense of Jefferson. It is true that after the invasion was 
over Jefferson had to face a charge of insufficient preparedness; on 
December 19, 1781, he appeared before the Legislature, was 
acquitted and vpted thanks. But his prestige in Virginia was clouded 
by the disaster^ of his Governorship, and by his having given up the 
helm in a storm. Thin-skinned to criticism, Jefferson looked forward 
to "the all-healing grave," It was his first and last public failure. In 
Virginia its memory lasted untilduring his absence as Minister to 
France the progressives under Madison came into local power, and 
loyally rehabilitated Jefferson as their master. Many years later, in 
Jefferson's first term as President, when a rash of newspaper libels 
broke out against him, the facts were deliberately twisted to make it 
seem that Jefferson had been rebuked by the Virginia Legislature for 
his cowardice, in running away from the British 1 The charge was 
absurd, but strangely passed into common belief, especially in the 
North. Federalists dwelt upon the spectacle of this long-legged 
statesman leaving Monticello with more haste than grace. Even a 
generation ago, the great historian Edward Channing used to leo 
ture vividly to his Harvard classes about the affrighted agrarian, 

Thomas Jefferson, The Gentle Radical 317 

"coattails flying in the wind." Chronologically, this is the first libel 
against Thomas Jefferson. 


In France, Jefferson was overshadowed by the remembrance of 
Franklin. He lacked Franklin's easy bonhomie, and quaintly enough 
was more of a Puritan than the great Bostonian had been. Jefferson 
too was a widower, but no lovely ladies found him apt at flirtation 
and banter, nor did any crown him with laurel at fetes champetres. 

At forty-three he was older than Franklin at seventy-five. "A dozen 
years ago this scene would have amused me," Jefferson wrote to 
Mrs. Trist, "but I am past the age for changing habits!" 

Abroad, Jefferson grew more aggressively American, seeing Eng- 
land as an aristocracy besotted with liquor and horse-racing, and 
France as a land where marital fidelity |s "an ungentlemanly prac- 
tice." He also loved to magnify the virtues of his native land, solemnly 
assuring Crevecoeur that New Jersey farmers probably learned how 
to make "the circumference of a wheel of one single piece" from 
Greek epic poetry, "because ours are the only farmers who can read 
Homer, ?> Jefferson fondly imagined himself the typical American 

France also confirmed Jefferson's aversion to "priestcraft" and 
hereditary aristocracy. At the news of Shay's Rebellion at home, he 
rejoiced believing in a little blood-letting at intervals for the health 
of the body politic. After his return to America the full fury of the 
French Revolution broke. At first Jefferson hailed it with almost 
fanatic tranquillity: "Was ever such a prize won with so little in- 
nocent blood? . . . rather than it should have failed I would have 
seen half the earth desolated," Even today, conservatives who hold 
to "sound Jeffersonian principles" try to forget his reckless remark 
about watering the tree of liberty periodically with blood. Jefferson 
maintained that only the sickly timid tory fears the People, whereas 
the strong leader loves and trusts them. In later years Jefferson dis- 
liked the radial plan upon which I/Enfant had laid out the city of 
Washington knowing it was designed to keep mobs from throwing 
up impassable barricades, while soldiers massed in its "circles" could 
command the approaches to the Capitol with artillery. Let the Peo- 
ple come, he said, 


Yet in practice, Jefferson was the gentlest of Girondists. Upon the 
eve of the Revolution the French Foreign Minister had smiled upon 
meetings of the disaffected in Jefferson's house, "being sure/' as Jef- 
ferson wrote, "that I should be useful in moderating the warmer 
spirits." After Jefferson's orderly election to the Presidency (which 
he loved to style "the revolution of 1800"), he reassured bankers and 
industrialists that he abhorred the spirit of unrest bred by the "blood 
and slaughter" in France, and was so temperate that radicals could 
hardly believe their ears. Out of office he was an idealist and revolu- 
tionary; within, a conservative and opportunist. Moreover, Jefferson 
the agrarian, urging that we "let our work-shops remain in Europe/' 
had as deep a fear as did Hamilton of the mobs of Old World cities. 
Jefferson compared such mobs to "sores" on the face of a nation. 
Convinced that those who labor in the earth are God's chosen people, 
and that tillers of the soil have an instinct for order and justice, 
Jefferson was ready at any time to sign up with embattled farmers. 
A revolution with pitchforks he understood, but pikestaves un- 
nerved him. 

Returning from France to serve as Secretary of State, Jefferson 
came into collision with Hamilton, and soon retired to Monticello. 
Shy by nature, disliking to fight hand-to-hand, he hied to convince 
himself that he wanted nothing so much as to plant his corn and 
beans in peace. "I have no passion to govern men; no passion which 
would lead me to delight to ride in a storm," he wrote his friend 
Rutledge on December 27, 1796. But events helped to draft him. 
Leadership was needed in the fight for "republicanism," what a later 
age would call democracy. An immersed scholar like John Taylor of 
Carpline was no vote-getter, while an eager man like Patrick Henry 
(already hardening into reaction) had fallen into the mud too often 
while scrambling for prizes and profits. The younger generation in 
Virginia, Madison and Monroe, frankly looked to Jefferson as their 
master. And the Federalists, by training their guns upon Jefferson 
even out of office, roused his slow-kindling anger and also drew more 
public notice to him. He thus became the focus for discontent. At 
fifty-fourstill protesting he preferred "the prattle of my grand- 
children and senile rest"-~Jefferson began to fight. He entered upon 
the Vice-Presidency, under John Adams. The threat of Aaron Burr's 
election in 1800 could be blocked only by a man like Jefferson. His 
duty was clear, and success followed. And so, like many other political 

Thomas Jefferson, The Gentle Radical 319 

leaders in a land where undue anxiety for office is bad form, Jefferson 
was carried forward upon the shoulders of his friends. Hero-worship 
was quick to respond. 

The first Jefferson Almanac appeared in 1800, for the year 1801; 
its publisher, George Keating, guaranteed "to give the Purchaser an 
Almanac for 1802 in case Thomas Jefferson is not elected President 
of the United States/' Campaign pamphlets and thumbnail biogra- 
phies of Jefferson now poured from the press by dozens. Typical is 
J. J. Beckley's Epitome of the Life & Character of Jefferson (Phila- 
delphia, July, 1800), lauding the "ardent mind of Jefferson, eagerly 
pursuing the principles of the revolution" (trusting apparently that 
readers would assume he meant the American rather than the French 
one); calling him "a man of pure, ardent, and unaffected piety . . . 
the adorer of one God . . . the friend and benefactor of the whole 
human race . . - the MAN OF THE PEOPLE . . . the brightest luminary of 
the western world." Robert Treat Paine's lyric "For Jefferson and 
Liberty" was sung at innumerable Jefferson rallies and "festivals," 
along with Rembrandt Peale's song "The People's Friend": 

Devoted to his country's cause, 

The Rights of Men and equal Laws, 
His hallowed pen was given: 

And now those Eights and Laws to save 

From sinking to an early grave, 
He comes employed by Heaven. 

Among the Berkshire hills of Massachusetts, Elder John Leland of 
Cheshire, who had preached electioneering sermons for Jefferson, 
conceived a magnificent victory tribute. To his Baptist flock he pro- 
posed that they should make the biggest cheese in the world in honor 
of Thomas Jefferson. An eye-witness reported: 

Every man and woman who owned a cow was to give for this 
cheese all the milk yielded on a certain day only no Federal cow 
must contribute a drop, A huge cider-press was fitted up to make 
it in, and on the appointed day the whole country turned out 
with pails and tubs of curd, the girls and women in their best 
gowns and ribbons, and the men in their Sunday coats and clean 
shirt-collars. The cheese was put to press with prayer and hymn 
singing and great solemnity. When it was well dried it weighed 


1600 pounds. It was placed on a sleigh, and Elder Leland drove 
with it all the way to Washington. It was a journey of three 
weeks. All the country had heard of the big cheese, and came out 
to look at it as the Elder drove along.* 

Upon his arrival in Washington, "Leland the cheese-monger," as 
scoffing Federalists called him, preached on Sunday before the joint 
Houses of Congress, from the text, "And behold, a greater than 
Solomon is here" praising the President with such zeal as one might 
expect from a godly man who had driven for three weeks with the 
largest cheese in the world. A segment of this cheese was still un- 
eaten in 1805; it was served at a presidential reception with cake 
and a huge urn of hot punch. This tribute was rivalled belatedly in 
1837, when a New York admirer of outgoing President Jackson con- 
veyed to the White House, "with banners and bands of music/* a 
cheese weighing 1400 pounds. 

Although James Fenimore Cooper knew a Federalist parson who 
refused, at the font, to christen an infant "Thomas Jefferson," name- 
sakes quickly began to appear. Among many namesake letters found 
in Jefferson's private papers, now in the Library of Congress, is one 
written with the painful care of a hand unaccustomed to the pen. 
The writer, Thomas Harris, says that he is "a free black man" of 
Sterling, Connecticut, and that his wife has 

presented me with a pair of twin boys. A pair of black twin hoys 
are, Sir, I believe no common sight. Such a pair however claim 
protection and support from me, which I fear I shall not be able 
to afford them. But Sir, as a testimony of my gratitude, for those 
principles of Justice and humanity by you so boldly advanced 
and ably advocated, and of the very great respect in which 1 
hold the Father of his Country, the friend of freedom and equal 
rights, the benefactor of mankind, and of people of colour in 
particular, I have named one of rny twins Thomas, and the other 

In regard to Jefferson as the Negro's friend, one of the most popular 
stories circulated about him was that he had returned the bow of 
an old darkey, in order that a Negro "might not outdo him in polite- 

* Harriet Taylor Upton, Our Early Presidents (1890), pp, 165-66. 

Thomas Jefferson, The Gentle Radical 821 

ness." Popular in school readers a generation ago, the anecdote 
usually went hand in hand with one about an old wayfaring man, 
wishing to ford a stream, who picked out Jefferson from a company 
of gentlemen on horseback as "the kindest-looking person." Jef- 
ferson's benevolence toward the poor and the slave was a legitimate 
part of his legend, though his attitude toward slavery as the owner 
of two hundred blacks himselfwas never quite clear to the public. 
For Jefferson himself (while favoring some gradual emancipation) 
was loath openly to endorse abolition when asked to do so by the 
French Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. It was another 
issue upon which the theoretical and the practical Jefferson never 
quite got together. 

Jefferson's fan mail, as a later day would call it, is luckily preserved 
in the Library of Congress but of course unpublished. 'It reveals some 
interesting things. The President's known scientific bent, for example, 
attracted a host of letter-writers unknown to fame or to Jefferson. 
They send a sample of cotton wadding made by a new process, a bit 
of old Peruvian earthenware, "a plan of aerial navigation" which 
needs Federal support, a new type of loom, an apple-paring machine, 
"an invention for traveling under water." American ingenuity felt 
that a kindred spirit was in the White House. Sometimes Jefferson's 
humble admirers caution him to take better care of himself, hinting 
that he runs the risk of assassination. Sometimes he is told that a 
Jefferson debating club has been formed in his honor, or a play or 
epic poem dedicated to him, often with the proposal that he produce 
or print it. 

That Jefferson was, in a sense unknown to Washington and John 
Adams, "the People's President," here stands revealed. A mechanic 
writes in to say that he and his wife have had "the fever," and need 
a loan of $500 which they are sure the President will supply. An- 
other laborer writes that he is averse to hard work, and so needs 
money to get an education and become a literary man; all credit 
will then belong to Jefferson. A Kentuckian reports that a dislocated 
shoulder prevents his doing heavy labor, and therefore he wishes 
$2000 to finance him while he studies law; apparently getting no 
answer, he repeats his request six weeks later with growing irritation. 
The pastor of a flock of Baptist Republicans in Lebanon, Ohio, tells 
Jefferson that his church has lost money in a legal dispute and needs 
a loan; other letters, incidentally, testify to cordial relations between 


Jefferson and a number of Baptist preachers and congregations. 
Many petitions come from needy veterans of the Revolution, debtors, 
and petty offenders in jail. Perhaps the most singular demand is a 
letter to Jefferson from one William Esenbeck, January 11, 1806; as a 
citizen of the national capital, he wants the President to detail six 
Indians to help him hunt wild beasts around the city. 

Although one finds the curious complaint, in a letter of January 
25, 1801, that "you will carry on the Government in a most parsimoni- 
ous manner," it is plain that Jefferson in his first term won vast 
popular favor by abolishing the excise (the cause of the Whisky 
Rebellion, in Washington's day), the land tax, stamp tax, and other 
direct levies which had been made during the war scare of 1798. 
This pruning won Jefferson an abiding place in the heart of the 
American farmer. But the most widely applauded act of Jefferson's 
regime was the Louisiana Purchase. It was a shrewd and simple 
bargain which everybody could understand, although Jefferson him- 
self took little subsequent pride in the Purchase and did not number 
it among the great "works" listed by his epitaph probably because 
he knew how unconstitutional his methods had been. But the average 
American, in an age of land-hunger and expansionism, felt no such 
misgivings, and was quick to approve Jefferson the empire-builder. 
A typical letter, from an unknown admirer, James Garner of Pendle- 
ton, South Carolina, June 7, 1807, relates that he has just been "taking 
a small view of the western Country, Natchez & Lower Louisiana": 

I Returnd Home, & having a higher (if possible) Regard & 
Esteem for your Personal Qualifications, in that great Acquisition 
of the western world & Numberless Measures mild and Advan- 
tageous to the American People in General, Excites me to write, 
to inform you that I never Expect to See you, & in order to Get 
as nigh as possible have Taken the freedom of Calling my Second 
and Last Son Th. Jefferson. 

After Jefferson's sweeping re-election, carrying all states save 
Connecticut and Delaware, his reputation seems to have reached its 
peak. His Second Inaugural shows that Jefferson, like other great 
leaders in world history, had become the mouthpiece of his age. 
Here occurs his famous counsel of "commerce and honest friendship 
with all nations entangling alliances with none." Unlike Washington, 

Thomas Jefferson, The Gentle Radical 323 

Jefferson was an adept literary artist, and it is significant that poster- 
ity has mistakenly put into the mouth of Washington one of Jeffer- 
son's most captivating phrases. 

About 1806 when Jefferson the expansionist was laying claim, 
incidentally, to the Gulf Stream as an American preserve, "in which 
hostilities and cruising are to be frowned on" his popularity was 
almost overwhelming, The Embargo had not yet reared its head. 
As early as November of that year, and increasingly through the 
next twelve-months, letters poured in begging him to consider a third 
term. From Bergen County, New Jersey, he was told that "It is the 
duty of every man to submit his individual wishes to the general 
will"; "at a crisis when the flames of war are raging in Europe with 
unabated violence," added the Chenango County Republicans of 
New York. In Delaware the Kent County Republicans wrote: "Your 
services is [sic] necessary . . . men are ridiculing the Declaration of 
Independence." A few admirers dissented, one reminding him that 
"if JEFFERSON retiring with 6clat enforces the principle of Rotation . . . 
what man would in future have the temerity to avow a contrary doc- 
trine? He would be immediately and deservedly denounced, as an 
enemy to the sovereign People, . . . None ever can be more univer- 
sally beloved." But, whether tempted or not, Jefferson followed 
Washington's precedent. 

Sensitive to censure, Jefferson also had the shy man's dislike of 
being lionized. Although a great democrat, he wanted to keep popu- 
larity at arm's length. This had been evident in earlier days when 
in the late winter of 1797, approaching Philadelphia to take his seat 
as Vice-President, he had tried to enter the city by stealth. As usual, 
American enterprise frustrated the scheme: "A body of troops were 
on the lookout for him and signalled his approach by a discharge of 
artillery, and, marching before him into the city, bore a banner aloft 
on which were inscribed the words: 'Jefferson, the Friend of the 
People/ " As President he made it a rule to send back even small 
tokens offered by admirers, lest he be suspected of taking perquisites 
and bribes; near the end of his second term he meticulously re- 
turned an ivory cane to Samuel Hawkins, saying he desired no 
reward save the "consciousness of a disinterested administration/* 
When Boston citizens sought to make his birthday a patriotic an- 
niversary, he disapproved "transferring the honors and veneration 
for the great birthday of the Republic to any individual, or of divid- 


ing them with individuals." The Fourth of July was enough glory 
for Jefferson. At the zenith of his popularity Jefferson looked icily 
upon Sullivan's proposal that he take a swing around the circle, to 
let the provincials have a look at their beloved chief; the President 
declared himself "not reconciled to the idea of a chief magistrate 
parading himself through the several States as an object of public 
gaze and in quest of applause which, to be valuable, should be purely 
voluntary." For all his mastery of some political arts and his secret 
thirst for approval, Jefferson never overcame a feeling, like that of 
Shakespeare's Coriolanus, about cheapening himself to court the 
mob, "the mutable, rank-scented many." Jefferson's self-knowledge- 
that kept him from any illusions about his power of oratory or his 
personal magnetism may have added to this feeling. Yet it is safe 
to say that no man today, Democratic or Republican, could become 
a major political hero who showed one half of Jefferson's aristocratic 

Still, he took a very human interest in what people thought about 
him. Jefferson kept a personal scrap-book, now in the University of 
Virginia Library. The first fifty pages are filled with political songs 
and verses, panegyrics and lampoons, accounts of dinners and Re- 
publican picnics, bearing chiefly upon himself. One tells of a monster 
celebration on the banks of the Ohio near Cincinnati, on the Fourth 
of July, 1806, at which Jefferson was toasted as "the supporter of 
the rights of man . . . whose integrity and virtue will live in the 
remembrance of a free and enlightened people, when calumniators 
are buried in oblivion," and cheered in the playing of "Jefferson's 
March" with a two-gun salute (George Washington received only 
one gun). Lyrics in praise of Jefferson are set to the tune of 'Hail, 
Columbia" and "Anacreon in Heaven" (subsequently that of "The 
Star-Spangled Banner"). In this album one finds "Original Thoughts 
on the Election of Thomas Jefferson composed by an obscure Alien/' 
in faltering meter but full of rhapsody. There is a satire sung at a 
Federalist rally on Independence Day in New Hampshire, which 

Great Washington's hobby, from first dawning youth, 

Was virtue, and valor, and wisdom, and truth. 

While Jefferson's hobby, on Chesterfield's plan, 

Was to rise in the Statesman, but sink m the Man. 

Thomas Jefferson, The Gentle Radical S25 

Beside this aspersion is the retort of a loyal Jeffersonian; he leaves the 
first two lines intact, but emends 

And Jefferson's hobby (on Washington's plan) 

To unite in the Statesman, the PATRIOT and MAN 

for good measure adding that "John Adams's hobby is dullness 

Jefferson's album includes the verses of one brave poet who 

Huzza for the prudent Embargo 1 

Yet, as is well known, the Embargo Act of 1807 was the one keenly 
unpopular deed of Jefferson's eight years. High-handed, it infringed 
upon American trade, "making many smugglers and traitors, but not 
a single hero/' as Henry Adams remarked. If this be thought New 
England prejudice, one may hear Mr. Albert Jay Nock, that warm 
Jeffersonian of our own day, call it "the most arbitrary, inquisitorial, 
and confiscatory measure formulated in American legislation up 
to the period of the Civil War." Forbidding the sailing of American 
ships upon the high seas lest they fall into the clutches of warring 
Europeans, the Embargo was humiliating to patriots and disastrous 
to traders. Except for theorists who shared Jefferson's hope that "eco- 
nomic sanctions" might come to be a moral equivalent for the War of 
1812, nobody loved the Embargo. Yet, as an experiment, much could 
have been said for it. At the end of his very successful administra- 
tion Jefferson was left temporarily discredited. Many families in the 
South, as well as in the Middle States and New England, were ruined 
by Jefferson's prudential isolation; they never forgave him, and 
handed to the next generation their hatred along with their insol- 
vency. Fredrika Bremer in 1850 on a railway journey through Georgia 
met a man "in person not unlike a meal-sack, whose father had lost 
$50,000 by the Embargo; he said 1 regard Tom Jefferson as the com- 
pound of everything which is rascally, mean, wicked, dishonorable.' " 


Indeed, in speaking of Jefferson the hero it is necessary to take 
account of that obbligato of hatred heard throughout his Presidency. 


Some of the First Families of Virginia had detested him since the 
Revolution, because he fought to end aristocratic privileges like en- 
tail, and the Episcopal clergy because he divorced Church and State. 
In fact, parsons and "economic royalists" were Jefferson's born en- 
emies. In Jefferson's day the charge of irreligion was a much more 
effective weapon of attack, before the eyes of the common man, 
than the charge of economic heresy. John Adams, although as much 
the skeptic as Jefferson, held economic views approved by the traders 
of New England, and hence was never set in the public pillory among 
the godless. A good many politicians who did not themselves give a 
rap for the divinity of Christ or inspiration of the Scriptures seized 
upon the theological brush with which to tar Jefferson. Jefferson 
avoided public utterance of his gravest doubts, but at heart seems 
to have been a deist. He disliked all sects, but came closest to being a 
Unitarian. He held vague hopes of immortality, but believed above 
all else in the religion of progress, of human betterment, "passing 
over us like a cloud of light." "It does me no injury for my neighbor 
to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket 
nor breaks my leg," he wrote in the Notes on Virginia, in tolerant 
words which irritated many. Although his views had been fixed long 
before he went abroad, Jefferson upon returning from France found 
he was suspected of being "Frenchified" or "contaminated" by alien 
nonsense. From Virginia the prejudice spread elsewhere as soon as 
Jefferson began to fill Federal office. 

Doctor Timothy Dwight, president of Yale, "Pope" of Connecticut, 
and akin by blood or marriage to those Hillhouses and Wolcotts and 
Wadsworths who held the purse-strings of Southern New England, 
led the assault. In a typical Discourse preached on the Fourth of July 
he predicted in 1800 that under Jefferson all Bibles would be burnt, 
children "wheedled or terrified" into singing Ca ira y and "we may see 
our wives and daughters the victims of legal prostitution." The na- 
tionalization of women, as Doctor Dwight well knew, is always a 
clarion call. In his later book The Character of Thomas Jefferson 
Doctor Dwight charged that this heretic was also vain, insincere, 
double-faced, and "would descend to the low means and artifices of 
a practiced intriguer and demagogue to gain favor with the lowest 
classes of the community." To have become the People's President 
was, in fact, an act of perfidy! Stephen Cullen Carpenter announced 

Thomas Jefferson, The Gentle Radical 327 

that Jefferson had denied "the right of property, marriage, natural 
affection, chastity, and decency." In New York the Reverend John 
Mason warned the American people against electing a President who 
"disbelieves the existence of an universal deluge." Upon Jefferson's 
inauguration, it was reported, pious New England housewives buried 
their Bibles in their gardens to keep them from confiscation, 

Assaults upon Jefferson continued to mingle economics with god- 
liness. A parson significantly named the Reverend Cotton Mather 
Smith charged that Jefferson had robbed a widow and her fatherless 
children of an estate of 10,000, entrusted him as executor. The 
President calmly replied that his sister was the only widow whose 
estate he had ever administered, and that so far as he knew she had 
no complaints. In the days of Jefferson's Vice-Presidency the Rev- 
erend Jedidiah Champion of Litchfield, Connecticut, had prayed 
with fervor for President Adams, and added *O Lord! wilt Thou 
bestow upon the Vice-President a double portion of Thy grace, for 
Thou knowest he needs it" But after Jefferson's accession to the high- 
est office, the Reverend James Abercrombie of Philadelphia declared 
that on account of the incumbent's atheism he was "very reluctant 
to read the prayers for the President of the United States, prescribed 
in the Episcopal ritual." Whether it were better for God to give, or 
withhold, His grace from Mr. Jefferson was a puzzling question. 

Jefferson received scores of anonymous letters about his religion, 
as his private papers show. They were far more numerous during his 
.first than his second term, by which time most people saw the absurd- 
ity of burying their Bibles. A typical letter signed *A. B " and written 
on Japuary 25, 1801, tells Jefferson he is rumored to be *a kind neigh- 
bour" and "certainly a Great Man,** but, says the writer, "I am afraid 
of your Religion & your Politicks/* He confesses he is not a pious man 
himself, but fears that if Christianity is uprooted in the United States 
"oaths will be nothing, and no one will be safe in his person or prop- 
erty/* Probably the writer had never read Swiffs dry remarks on 
abolishing Christianity in England. Another letter, signed "a poor 
Afflicted Sickly bruised Reed," written May 2, 1801, exhorts Jefferson 
to look to the Bible for wisdom, to pass more severe laws against 
swearing and Sabbath-breaking. A letter from "a Youth of fifteen/* 
on March 10 of this same year, admits the alarm felt by those "who 
have some Regard for Religion, Liberty, and good Order/' at Jeffer- 


son's efforts to destroy "the Constitution which was framed by our 
forefathers." That a man so near the fountain-head of our national 
life as Jefferson should have been accused of laying violent hands 
upon the "forefathers" is a fact worth noting. 

The dwindling of such letters during Jefferson's second term 
sprang, in part, from a rather curious situation. The great mass of 
his followers were humble rather than rich, farmers rather than city 
folk. Tidings of Jefferson's deism reached them faintly. More surely 
they knew he had eased their tax burdens, and was opening to them 
a vast new frontier for settlement. In other words, he was their friend. 
And it was among these people, Baptist and Methodist, that a great 
wave of revivalism surged during the early years of Jefferson's Presi- 
dencythe Gasper River, Holly Springs, Red River, Flemingsburg, 
and other camp-meetings which excited nationwide comment. From 
the loneliness of back country and frontier they discovered the gre- 
garious warmth of revivals. By the light of flickering lanterns, be- 
neath the tents of Zion, in the muddy waters of a hundred inland 
rivers, men and women were washed in the blood of the Lamb. A 
generation later, in the backwoods of the Lincoln country, Herndon 
found them hugging each other and singing in ecstasy that was half 
religious, half sexual 

I have my Jesus in my arms, 

Sweet as honey, strong as bacon ham. 

At Newburgh, New York, The Recorder of the Times, August 29, 
1804, like many another rural newspaper, remarked the incontestable 
fact that in Mr. Jefferson's "wise and virtuous administration" God 
Almighty has "poured out his spirit among the people in a manner 
before unknown in America." It was a mighty rebuke to Doctor Timo- 
thy Dwight and his chilly pewholders. In fact, it became common 
for the rank-and-file Jeffersonians radical in politics, conservative 
in religion to deny as calumny any doubts of their President's piety. 
To many, Jefferson's stand against "priestcraft" struck a chord of 
Protestant sympathy loud enough to be heard above the thunders 
of Congregational and Episcopal pulpits. One of the worst poems 
ever written to praise an American hero, called The Pudding proved 

Thomas Jefferson, The Gentle Radical 329 

by eating of it, printed in Monroe County, Virginia, in 1804, declares: 

His States' Work doth not depend on any Clergy Whim, 
His Business hath naught to do with a Priest-Craft System : 
His religious Opinions is but between his God and him. 

Better have Deist President that is of mild command, 
Than a Christian one, that is for an overbearing hand. 

The great mass of Americans, then as later, refused to pay attention 
to the handful of militant freethinkers who tried to claim Jefferson, 
or to the small band of parsons who refused to bury the hatchet. 
Even today a few conservative Virginia damesborn and bred in a 
socio-economic stratum whose prejudices are well-nigh immortal- 
think of Tom Jefferson as the freethinker and dangerous radical, who 
made the Episcopal Church in Virginia "just like any other church." 
But in the main, Jefferson^s reply in old age to a prying individual 
"Say nothing of my religion. It is known to my God and myself 
alone" has been respected by his average hero- worshippers. 

Some charges made against Jefferson early and late by his ene- 
miesthat he chattered like a French monkey, loved flattery, and 
practiced vivisection for cruelty in the name of science were such 
distortions of a silent, dignified, kindly man that they had not enough 
vitality to live. Even Washington Irving's portrait of "William Kieft" 
in his Knickerbocker's History in 1809 dressed in "cocked hat and 
corduroy small-clothes" and mounted on "a raw-boned charger," who 
invented carts that went before horses and weathercocks that turned 
against the wind, who lived in "a sweet sequestered swamp" on an 
estate "commonly known by the name of Dog's Misery," and who 
punctuated counsels of state with thunderous blasts of his nose blown 
into a red cotton handkerchief is funny, but even more unrecogniz- 
able than Maxwell Anderson's picture of Peter Stuyvesant as FrarJk- 
lin Delano Roosevelt The Jonnycake Papers later burlesqued such 
caricatures by recalling that "Tom Jefferson . . . was nothing but a 
mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, 
sired by a Virginia mulatto father, as well known in the neighborhood 
where he was raised wholly on hoe-cake (made of coarse-ground 
Southern corn), bacon and hominy, with an occasional change of 
fricasseed bullfrog, for which abominable reptiles he had acquired a 


taste during his residence among the French at Paris." Such hostile 
nicknames as "Thomas the Magician" or "Thomas Conundrum," seek- 
ing to suggest political skulduggery, never caught on. The public 
indeed had decided that Jefferson's was white magic. 

The rankest canard which flew about Jefferson was that his taste 
ran to colored mistresses. It seems to have been invented in the North, 
where to some Federalists the fact was perhaps incredible that a 
Southern gentleman might own a hundred female slaves without 
claiming a droit de seigneur. In The Portfolio, issued in Philadelphia 
in October, 1802, one finds this lyric about the President of the 
United States: 


Supposed to have been written by the Sage of Monticcllo. 

Et etiam fusco grata color e Venus. Ovid, 
"And Venus pleases, though as black as jet." 

Tune: "Yankee Doodle." 

Of all the damsels on the green, 
On mountain or in valley, 
A lass so lucious ne'er was seen 
As Monticellian Sally. 

Chorus; Yankee doodle, who's the noodle? 

What wife were half so handy? 
To breed a flock o slaves for stock, 
A blackamoor's the dandy. 

What though she by the glands secretes; 
Must I stand shil - 1, shall - 1? 
Tuck'd up between a pair of sheets 
There's no perfume like Sally. 

The little poet Tom Moore, visiting Washington in 1804 and pre- 
sented at the White House by the anti-Jeffersonian Mercys, was irked 
by the tall President's failure to take special note of the greatest 
living Irish, bard. To the joy of Federalists he published his verse 

Thomas Jefferson, The Gentle Radical 331 

epistle to Thomas Hume, describing the chieftain in Washington who 

retires to lash his slaves at home; 
Or woo, perhaps, some black Aspasia's charms, 
And dream of freedom in his bondmaid's arms. 

James Fenimore Cooper's old schoolmaster "cracked his jokes daily 
about Mr. Jefferson and Black Sal, never failing to place his libertin- 
ism in strong relief against the approved morals of George III." The 
rumor has no known basis in fact. Jefferson, so scrupulous to answer 
charges which had a grain of truth, never troubled to quash this story. 
Yet it had a long subterranean life. During the campaign of 1860 
enemies of Abraham Lincoln, trying to damage him with the liberal 
as well as the Southern vote, claimed he had said Jefferson was a 
slaveholder who "brought his own children under the hammer, and 
made money of his debaucheries/ 7 Also that one of Jefferson's dusky 
daughters "was sold some years ago at public auction in New Orleans, 
and was purchased by a society of gentlemen who wished to testify 
by her liberation their admiration of the statesman who 'dreamt of 
freedom in a slave's embrace. 7 " Lincoln branded this supposed 
speech of his "a base forgery." "Old Martin," who for many years 
rang the campus bell of the University of Virginia, proudly boasted 
that he was a great-grandson of Thomas Jefferson. Although some of 
the Jeffersonians of Charlottesville thought he might have been a 
wild oat sown by one of the statesman's "fast" Randolph grandsons, 
one suspects the projection in time of an old legend. The University 
founded by Jefferson has always been very proud of him, never prone 
to apologize for either his real or imaginary vices. In fact it is a 
roosting-place for the more fantastic rumors about him such as, that 
he laid out its serpentine walls while drunk, and that he built a row 
D Small houses back of pavilions to serve as collegiate brothels. Quite 
without truth, it is sometimes said that in the charter of the University 
Df Virginia Jefferson provided for licensed prostitution, upon the 
theory that such an outlet was better for young bullocks than vice 
without regulation. As recently as 1930 Mr. John Cook Wyllie of the 
University Library received a series of inquiries, asking for a copy 
:>r photostat of the charter, from the Public Library of St. Louis. After 
;ome coyness it came out that a patron of the St. Louis Public Library 


The remaining charges against Jefferson's morals stem from the 
year 1802 and the vilification of a Scotchman named James Thomson 
Callender. The facts are ironic. Callender, who had fled his own 
land after libelling the British Government, was first thought by the 
credulous Jefferson to be a misunderstood, mistreated democrat. So 
Jefferson gave him secret patronage. This journeyman of slander 
soon began to attack the Federalist Party, Adams, and Hamilton. His 
snapping at Hamilton's heels forced that statesman to clear himself 
of suspected unfaithfulness to public trust, at the expense of revealing 
his adultery with Mrs. Reynoldsa brave but most humiliating dis- 
closure by Hamilton. The Jeffersonians were gleeful. Attacks upon 
President Adams, however, sent Callender to a Richmond jail for 
nine months. Upon Jefferson's inauguration Callender was pardoned 
and his fine of $200 was remitted. But a delay in the return of this 
money so angered Callender that he turned against Jefferson, and 
bedaubed him with the same mud with which he had spattered 
Hamilton. In 1802 in the Richmond Recorder he printed charges 
against Jefferson whose stain can never be quite forgotten by those 
otherwise disposed to hate the third President. Callender was a 
maudlin drunkard who often threatened to commit suicide, and in 
1803 was found drowned in three feet of water in the James River; 
but his work lived long after him. A swarm of pamphlets took up the 
charges, newspapers printed sniggering allusions to them, and early 
in 1805 they were aired upon the floor of the Massachusetts Legis- 
lature by Congressman John W. Hulbert 

The charge of cowardice in Revolutionary days, and Jefferson's 
alleged statement that belief in God was "of no social importance," 
were spiced with accusations of sexual error, in the Callender- 
Hulbert libels. Jefferson admitted the truth of only one charge that 
as a young man he had made improper and unsuccessful advances 
to Mrs. John Walker, wife of a lifelong friend and neighbor. This 
memoir of his dead life must have caused exquisite pain to the sen- 
sitive aristocrat. It was singular to find him writhing upon the same 
barb, driven by the same hand, which had pierced Hamilton. Jeffer- 
son penned a confession "that when young and single I offered love 
to a handsome ladyI acknoledge [sic] its incorrectness/" and cir- 
culated it among his intimate friends and cabinet officers, with denial 
of the other charges. Jefferson had the misfortune at this time to 
become involved with the talkative, none-too-sympathetic Lees, 

Thomas Jefferson, The Gentle Radical 333 

Henry Lee serving as go-between for Jefferson and the unhappy 
husbandwho in 1806 requested in Jefferson's hand a statement of 
"his, & his lady's entire exculpation" for publication if the scandal 
ever reappeared. It is safe to say, as Douglas S. Freeman remarks, 
that Jefferson was no hero in the eyes of the Lee family or the 
idealistic Robert E. Lee; they and related Virginia families have 
tended to look upon Jefferson with contempt. Americans at large, 
however, have long forgotten this episode., buried among the rotten 
timber of Callender's libels. It is probable that a score of modern 
Virginians have heard about Jefferson's mythical taste for octoroons 
to one who has heard the real story of poor Mrs. John Walker. 

Critical students of Jefferson have long been troubled by an aspect 
of his personality which makes less inflammable tinder for scandal, 
but comes closer to the real man. It is akin to the only serious blemish 
of Franklin, a pliant expediency. Were it not for the stalwart example 
of Washington, cynics might conclude that the greatest heroes of 
the early Republic were men who succeeded because of their re- 
semblance to Sam Slick, Washington alone towered above the fogs 
of opportunism, and did all his work without recourse to occasional 
backstairs stratagems. He alone had a scrupulous code beyond that 
of the practical politician, and deservedly is the greatest hero of our 
early Republic. Franklin and Jefferson generally contrived to com- 
promise issues without compromising themselves, but here and there 
they slipped a trifle. Clearly below them, in a descending scale, were 
men like Patrick Henry-who, as Jeffersfta knew, was a rather shady 
individual and Robert Morris, so-called "financier of the Revolu- 
tion." (Although Morris is still in patriotic favor, with hotels and 
credit associations named for him, it is now clear, as Professor Aber- 
nethy remarks, that the Revolution financed Robert Morris, and that 
he embraced the cause of independence as a heaven-sent speculative 
opportunity. But remarkably few, indeed, are the unworthies who 
have slipped into the fold of American hero-worship.) 

The cleeps of Jefferson's character are not easy to plumb. In the 
first place, he was a very amiable gentleman. He liked to please peo- 
ple. In the days of his Ministry to France he obliged a large circle of 
friends and acquaintances by shopping for them: even Mrs. John 
Adams wrote asking him to buy her daughter "two pairs of corsets," 
somehow assuming that Mr. Jefferson without being told would know 
the right size. Jefferson came close to being a bom victim of that 


American phrase, "let George do it." He was a natural committeeman, 
and if destiny had not drafted him for a higher role he would have 
made the ideal Vice-President. He wished to say what people wanted 
to hear, and (despite his authorship of a great document of defiance) 
he dreaded to provoke criticism, offense, personal friction. The rigors 
of debate had no appeal for him. Although he might collect gossip 
about his enemies with the calmness of research, he was reluctant to 
make aggressive use of it. Only when goaded did he fight back; even 
then he was quick to offer the olive-branch. One of his most char- 
acteristic utterances was the statement of his First Inaugural, "We 
are all republicans we are all federalists." 

In his talk and his letters Jefferson usually let others set the topic 
and tone, often restating their opinions with his own greater literary 
finesse, Once this habit brought him to the brink of political ruin. 
This was at the time of his flowery outburst, in the Latin vein, to 
Mazzei on April 24, 1796, during Washington's administration and 
pointed at the President, about those Americans "who were Sam- 
sons in the field and Solomons in the council, but who have had their 
heads shorn by the harlot England/* Jefferson was deeply shocked 
when this letter bounced back in the public eye, and did all he could 
to unsay it. A little later, proof reached Washington that Jefferson's 
nephew living at Monticello had forged a letter of flattery, in dis- 
guised handwriting under the fictitious name '"John Langhorne," 
hoping to trap Washington into private utterances which might be 
used against him politically. Whether Jefferson had a hand in this 
naive ruse cannot now be proved, in black and white, but Washing- 
ton himself and some of his later partisans have so believed. Most 
people know nothing of this incident, and the biographers of Jef- 
ferson strangely do not mention itthough they like to toll how Jef- 
ferson, one later spring, placed upon the bust of Washington at Mon- 
ticello a wreath of immortelles a French admirer had sent the phi- 
losopher to wear on his own bix*thday, 

Jefferson the man was easy to know, but impossible to know well 
Many called him "a trimmer/' Sometimes it appeared that he steered 
a circuitous course, catching the prevailing winds as he went along, 
to reach in the end a wholly honorable port. John Qulncy Adams., 
naturally inclined to overstate the case, said that Jefferson had <<f a 
memory so pandering to the will that in deceiving others he seems to 
have begun by deceiving himself/' More sympathetically, one must 

Thomas Jefferson, The Gentle Radical 335 

say that Jefferson had been forced to learn the arts of expediency. 
As a young Governor, his scrupulosity over legal points had been the 
prime reason for a failure he never forgot. Later he was prone to 
believe that the end justified the means. In his most important de- 
cision, the Louisiana Purchase in which he privately admitted that 
he had "done an act beyond the Constitution" in not waiting for the 
cumbersome machinery of democracy certainly the result was 
splendid, and vindicated by all patriotism and good sense. Justifying 
his high-handed methods in the Burr conspiracy, free to admit that 
democracy is too slow in crises, Jefferson the President wrote (in 
words so alien to Jefferson the Governor): "Should we have ever 
gained our Revolution, if we had bound our hands by manacles of 
the law?" It was significant that President Roosevelt, in his message 
to Congress on September 3, 1940, apropos of the "swap'* of fifty 
old destroyers for eight naval bases for defense of the Western Hemi- 
sphere, should have buttressed himself with the precedent of Jef- 
ferson's "unconstitutional'' bargain with Napoleon calling his ex- 
change "the most important action in the re-enforcement of our 
national defense that has been taken since the Louisiana Purchase/* 
The American people, it appears, approved both. 

Jefferson's was a complex brain the brain of a dreamer and ideal- 
ist, trained by experience into a shrewd, adaptable, hard-headed 
politicianand it let him see all sides of a subject. His very penetra- 
tion bred contradictions, and led him sometimes into passing incon- 
sistency. (He has been quoted for and against states' rights and the 
right of secession, for and against restricted immigration, for and 
against the spoils system, for and against a big navy and prepared- 
ness.) Though some of these contradictions are more apparent than 
real, it must be admitted that Jefferson's intellect far from being a 
single-track mind like Washington's was a whole switch-yard. But 
the most vital fact remains to be added. Jefferson's devotion to the 
United States, above all other interests private or public, selfish or 
partisan, was superbly consistent. There he never wavered. Ham- 
ilton's intrigues with the British Crown in 1792, which carried him 
perilously near to treason, have no counterpart in the Jefferson pat- 
tern. Only to political dogmas or exclusive economic interests did 
Jefferson fail to show a fixed loyalty. There he allowed himself to 
blow hot and cold, depending upon occasions. 

Of course the average American on the basis of his vague knowl- 


edge, in early *times as well as today, could not be expected to ration- 
alize all these things. He was simply disposed to accept Jefferson as 
"the People's friend/' and this trust was not ill placed. Jefferson's 
contribution to the United States, as statesman and President, was 
not an airtight or even very logical political system. It was chiefly a 
faithfaith in the long run in the dependability, wisdom, and honesty 
of the common literate individual, as represented in his day by the 
agrarian majority. Woodrow Wilson said: "The immortality of 
Thomas Jefferson does not lie in any one of his achievements, but in 
his attitude toward mankind." This verdict, whether endorsed by a 
great modern liberal or by the man in the street, is the core of the 
Jefferson cult. 

Through the long sunset years between Jefferson's retirement in 
1809 and his death in 1826, he became an oracle and patriarch. He 
was one of the last surviving symbols of the Revolution, the sage on 
the hill-top, who ( as a visitor wrote in 1816 ) , after "having filled a seat 
higher than that of kings, succeeds with graceful dignity to that of 
the good neighbor." A typical English visitor to America, Isaac 
Candler, grew bored with being told that Jefferson was "the most 
learned man in the world," and with hearing Jefferson's opinions on 
art and literature quoted to end all discussion. (The mantle of ver- 
satility was already being cast about the shoulders of great Ameri- 
cans.) Jefferson's growing financial embarrassments were neglected 
by his native state, but brought generous gifts from citizens of New 
York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. In June, 1826, Jefferson declined 
on the score of health an invitation to become the city of Washing- 
ton's guest of honor on the Fiftieth Birthday of the Declaration of 
Independence. His reply, traced with a feeble hand, but stating with 
his old fire the conviction that "the mass of mankind has not been 
born with saddles on their backs," was published immediately as a 
broadside. It was his last pastoral charge. Shortly after noon of that 
Fourth of July the date upon whose prime validity Jefferson had so 
long insistedthe statesman breathed his last. Every schoolboy knows 
that John Adams, expiring on the same day in Massachusetts, faintly 
murmured, "Thomas Jefferson still survives/' Many Americans felt a 
sentiment thus expressed by a Virginia newspaper: "In this most 
singular coincidence, the finger of Providence is plainly visiblel It 

Thomas Jefferson, The Gentle Radical 337 

hallows the Declaration of Independence as the Word of God, and is 
the bow in the Heavens, that promises its principles shall be eternal." 
But at least one jealous Jeffersonian, who lived in Albermarle County, 
thought that John Adams's death on the same day "was a damned 
Yankee trick." 

In death, as in life, Jefferson remained second to Washington. 
Daniel Webster, in his great joint eulogy on Jefferson and Adams at 
Faneuil Hall in 1826, exclaimed: "Washington is in the clear upper 
sky. These other stars have now joined the American constellation; 
they circle round their center, and the Heavens beam with new light." 
It was plain that none could rival the glory of Washington, who 
had fought for and won the liberty that Jefferson and Adams had 
phrased. The first to hold highest office and the first to die, Washing- 
ton was divorced more completely than they from sections and 
parties. It was also clear that to the country at large Jefferson was a 
greater hero than Adams, His single deeds from the Declaration to 
the Louisiana Purchase had been more splendid, and his policies 
had struck deeper root. The Adamses have always served America 
well, but their vanity, coldness, and knack of doing the gracious 
thing "in the ungracious way" have kept them in a class inferior to 
the heroes the worthies. 

It was Jefferson's good luck, and the nation's, that his loyal pupils 
Madison and Monroe for sixteen years carried on his will and testa- 
ment. The liberalisms of later men, who in various ways tried to re- 
vive the faith of Jefferson-Jackson, Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson-were 
uprooted more quickly by falling into hostile hands. Jeffersonianism 
enjoyed a long fruitful summer of increase; it became a name and 
philosophy of rich American associations. Even the Whigs, Jackson's 
enemies and Webster's friends, who had taken all there was to salvage 
from the shipwreck of the anti-Jefferson Federalists, in 1841^ after 
their Log Cabin campaign, as a New York newspaper noted, "have 
of late years repeatedly declared themselves true Jeffersonian Demo- 
crats/' Henry S, Randall, in a devoted three-volume life of Jefferson 
in 1858, remarked that although Jefferson was still secretly assailed 
*by class and hereditary hate/' yet no orator dared publicly attack 
the two greatest Americans, Washington and Jefferson, Jthe one 
who was the Sword of his country, and the other the Pen," 

Walt Whitman who had younger brothers named Thomas Jef- 
ferson and Andrew Jackson Whitman-spoke of the two agrarian 


statesmen as "the sainted Jefferson and Jackson/' In youth the poet of 
"the Divine Average" had hailed Jefferson as "the Columbus of our 
political faith/' and in old age still cherished him as "among the 
greatest of the great/' With the storm of Civil War darkening, Jef- 
ferson, as author of the affirmation that all men are created free and 
equal, began to receive fresh honor in the North. The new Republi- 
can Party, dressing its ranks for a great crusade, looked to Jefferson 
the idealist. Lincoln, replying on April 6, 1859, to an invitation to a 
Jefferson birthday rally in Boston, was moved to grave mirth by the 
shifting of old party lines. He told the story of two drunks who got 
into a fight: each fought himself out of his own coat and into that 
of the other fellow. Lincoln remarked that Jefferson's land, the South, 
now held that personal liberty was nothing in comparison with 
property rights, while "Republicans, on the contrary, are for both 
the man and the dollar, but in case of conflict the man before the 
dollar," That was Jeffersonianism. "The principles of Jefferson are 
the definitions and axioms of free society," Lincoln added. "All honor 
to Jeffersonto the man who, in the concrete pressure of a struggle 
for national independence by a single people, had the coolness, fore- 
cast, and capacity to introduce into a mere revolutionary document 
an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times." 

Jefferson as hero waned somewhat after the Civil War. New idols 
like Lincoln and Grant tended to dim the galaxy of the Revolution. 
The unity symbolized by the amended Constitution now appeared 
more precious than the ringing defiance of the Declaration. Jeffer- 
son's memory had neither its Weems nor its John Hay: his very char- 
acter was too deep an enigma for conventional biography. Orators, 
novelists, and poets seemed to pass him by; even Monticello grew 
shabbier, more neglected, with each passing year. His liberalism 
fell upon deaf ears in the era Vernon Parrington has called "the Great 
Barbecue." Only here and there were men to whom Jefferson was a 
magic spirit. The most ardent of them was Henry George, shocked 
over land-grabbing in the West and the growing slums of Eastern 
cities. Henry George believed in Jefferson's Godthe Author of 
Nature who had created the earth for men to till, and to exercise the 
gift He had given them of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness* 
George conceived the Single-Tax as an offshoot of Jefferson's philos- 
ophy, as a safeguard against exploitation of the soil. But he was in 
the minority. 

Thomas Jefferson, The Gentle Radical 339 

The Democratic Party, reviving slowly after the Civil War, made 
Jefferson its patron saint; but the national leadership of Jefferson's 
region, the South, had been shattered. The dominant party, the Re- 
publicans, had forgotten Jefferson since Lincoln's day. A semi-liberal 
like Theodore Roosevelt (who shared the historical loyalties of his 
Federalist friend Lodge) detested Jefferson. The only thing he could 
approve was the Louisiana Purchase; in all else Jefferson was a 
weakling. Roosevelt's most blasting damnation of Bryan was a com- 
parison with Jefferson well-meaning, shallow, cheap, vacillating, 
possessing "Jefferson's nervous fear of doing anything that may seem 
to be unpopular with the rank and file of the people/ 7 Thus he wrote 
to Taft on September 4, 1906. Indeed, Jefferson was out of fashion 
with more simon-pure liberals than Roosevelt. One of the most pow- 
erful books of that decade, Herbert Crol/s The Promise of American 
Life in 1909, offered stinging epithets about "Jefferson's intellectual 
superficiality and insincerity/' Even in his champions Jefferson was 
unfortunate; in the muckraking era, William Randolph Hearst took 
up "J e ff ers0n i ai1 democracy" as his favorite shibboleth. 

Wilson had marked intellectual sympathy for Jefferson, but no 
warm personal admiration; he once told Colonel House that Alex- 
ander Hamilton "was easily the ablest" statesman of the early 

After the Great War, Jefferson was often quoted on "entangling 
alliances/* approved as an isolationist and lover of peace. In view of 
Reel Russia, little was said of Jefferson the radical. Upon another tack, 
in 1928, it was asserted direfully that the election of a Catholic 
President would "roll back the progress of Democracy of Jefferson 
and Jackson/' 


Jefferson did not come into his own until the New Deal Whether 
consciously or not, he has been built up to offset Lincoln, as a symbol 
of the Democratic Party, and to give the new liberalism its sanction 
by tradition, The great Jefferson Memorial now being completed in 
Washington, the reawakened cult at Monticello, the three-cent stamp, 
the new Jefferson nickel, and the massive face which Gutzon Borg- 
him has carved upon Mount Rushmore all proclaim that he is our 


newest Federal God in the highest degree. Some of these tributes 
might have come at all events; together, they show an unmistakable 

Franklin D. Roosevelt as candidate for President, at St. Paul in 
the spring of 1932, declared that Benjamin Franklin, Jefferson, and 
Theodore Roosevelt were the three great Americans who knew best 
tlie cross-currents of our folk life, the hopes and fears of the com- 
mon people"and of these three Jefferson was in many ways the 
deepest student. . . . His, after all, was the essential point of view 
that has been held by our truly great leaders in every generation/* 
(The exclusion of Lincoln was perhaps a political one, since he, 
rather than the "progressive" Theodore Roosevelt, was embedded so 
deeply in Republican myth.) A few months later in San Francisco, 
making his notable speech on Progressive Government, Franklin D. 
Roosevelt ranked Jefferson first on the roll-call of American liberals, 
followed by Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. As President, 
on July 4, 1936, at Monticello, he glowingly praised Jefferson's "con- 
secration" to social justice and to "the freedom of the human mind." 
Mr. Roosevelt has quoted George Washington a little gingerly, 
even on so safe a subject as popular education, lest he be contradicted 
by other passages "from the somewhat voluminous writings and 
messages of the First President" but of Jefferson's mind, which many 
regard as more perilously self-contradictory, Mr. Roosevelt has 
always spoken with assurance. In a more personal view, the parallel 
between the master of Monticello and the squire of Hyde Park, an- 
other gentle radical, is too good to miss. In July, 1937, it was reported 
that a portrait of Jefferson painted by the Polish patriot Kosciuszko, 
and carried at that time from the Polish Embassy to the White House, 
bore a striking resemblance to Mr. Roosevelt. Certainly the thirty- 
second President feels at home in the milieu of the third. At the 
University of Virginia on June 10, 1940, the day of Italy's entry into 
the War, the President welcomed an occasion to speak his mind in 
"this university founded by the first great American teacher of democ- 
racy." That Thomas Jefferson is Mr. Roosevelt's political hero one 
can hardly doubt, or that his ideals have tinged the philosophy of 
the New Deal. 

Claude G. Bowers, admirer and biographer of Jefferson, was made 
Ambassador to Spain by President Roosevelt in 1933. From Madrid, 
to the Democratic campaign of 1936, Mr. Bowers contributed his 

Thomas Jefferson, The Gentle Radical 341 

book, Jefferson in Power: The Death Struggle of the Federalists. It 
described the career of a liberal aristocrat through eight years of 
serene triumph, winning the people's love, engaging in vast public 
works, and readily crushing his enemies who had "fought with far- 
seeing cunning from behind the protecting shield of the Supreme 
Court." Mr. Bowers pointed his moral by saying, "the story is offered 
as a warning to all succeeding political parties and politicians that 
public opinion cannot be defied with impunity." (Dissenters re- 
marked that Mr. Bowers had nothing to say about Jefferson's dictum 
that "the best government is that which governs least.") While Mr. 
Bowers, here and elsewhere, implies that Jefferson would applaud 
the New Deal, Mr. James Truslow Adams in The Living Jefferson 
(1936) states that Jefferson would have hated it. Needless to say, 
both men agree with Jefferson. 

The enemies of Jefferson are dead, or in hiding. Nowadays no 
such words are uttered publicly as those of Bishop Henry Codman 
Potter, "shepherd of the Four Hundred," at the Washington In- 
augural Centennial of 1889 in New York: "We have exchanged the 
Washingtonian dignity for the Jeffersonian simplicity, which was in 
truth only another name for the Jacks onian vulgarity." Under the 
new liberalism, the Federalist heirlooms of the Republican Party 
have been locked away in the cupboard. Since Andrew Mellon was 
called "the greatest Secretary of the Treasury since Alexander Ham- 
ilton," the name of Jefferson's bitterest enemy has scarcely been 
heard in American politics. Republicans, like the Whigs of Webster's 
day, now invoke "sound Jeffersonian principles." Nobody can raise 
many votes with sound Hamiltonian principles. 

Conservatives may also claim the hereditary honors, as it were, in 
having among their ranks the lineal descendants of Jefferson, the 
Coolidges of Boston* This family presented Jefferson's writing-desk 
to the nation in 1880, has served on the trusteeship of Monticello 
and the new Federal memorial, and takes unfailing pride in Jeffer- 
son's memory. Thomas Jefferson Coolidge, banker and member of 
the Somerset Club, served as Under-Secretary of the Treasury early 
in the New Deal, but it was apparent that he was no scourge of the 
vested interests. Harold Jefferson Coolidge in 1937 published a slim 
volume called Thoughts on Thomas Jefferson: Or What Jefferson Was 
Not. He there pays his respects to "'Jefferson Clubs' whose leaders 
are politicians of the type of 'AY Smith, *J im ' Farley, or James M. 


Curley. These are the men who talk most about Jefferson." Mr. Cool- 
idge, one gathers, is a little irritated, knowing that by any other 
name the wild Irish rose would smell as sweet. 

Today three great shrines to Jefferson are being repaired or built. 
The first is Monticello, where Jefferson lavished ingenuity over wind- 
vanes and double-action doors and experimented with new seeds and 
cuttings, and where, as he wrote, "all my wishes end." Thousands 
of pilgrims, in Jefferson's later years, called to pay their respects; the 
sage's hospitality to them helped to drive him bankrupt. After his 
death Monticello fell into strangers' hands; less reverent visitors, 
seeking souvenirs, broke open the high iron gates and chipped pieces 
from Jefferson's obelisk. At its lowest ebb the estate was bought by 
a Jewish commodore in the Navy, Uriah Levy. His nephew, Jefferson 
Monroe Levy, a New Yorker who had made millions in Canadian 
Pacific Railway and had a taste for politics, inherited it and took some 
pride in possession. In 1923 he sold Monticello for half a million 
dollars to the newly formed Jefferson Memorial Foundation which 
immediately turned it into a national shrine. Only 19,414 visitors 
came in the first year, and the outlook, with a staggering mortgage, 
was not bright. But through the following years popular interest in 
Jefferson quickened; new biographies were printed, orators invoked 
Jefferson more warmly, magazines published articles on Jefferson 
and the New Deal. Last year more than 100,000 visitors paid a half 
dollar each for admission to the shrine even though Monticello is 
more remote from large cities and major highways than are Mount 
Vernon, Franklin's grave, the Hermitage, or Grant's tomb, Chairman 
of the Foundation and most enterprising of Jeffersonians is Mr. Stuart 
Gibboney, a direct descendant of Patrick Henry, veteran of the 
Spanish-American War and the Boxer uprising, and New York at- 
torney for Angostura Bitters, Mr, Gibboney, a good friend of the 
Jefferson Coolidges, takes pleasure in sending them with something 
of a twinkle in his eyecopies of their great ancestor's more inflam- 
matory utterances. 

Jeffersonians have long regretted the lack of a great Federal shrine, 
comparable to the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. 
Through the efforts of Mr. Gibboney and the Foundation, aided by 
sympathy from the Democratic Party, Congress in June, 1934, cre- 
ated a Jefferson Memorial Commission* Its choice of a site is signifi- 
cant of Jefferson's new hero-rank. When the Lincoln Memorial was 

Thomas Jefferson, The Gentle Radical 843 

built to complete an axis running from the Capitol through the Mall, 
and past the Washington Monument to the river bank, it was seen 
that at some future date the general cruciform plan would be finished 
by an intersecting axis drawn from the White House through the 
Washington obelisk to the tidal basin, where hundreds of cherry 
trees bloom in the spring. This site, long awaiting some memorial to 
match Washington's and Lincoln's, is that of the new $3,000,000 
shrine to Jefferson. A circular temple of white marble, in the Palladian 
style of dome and colonnade that Jefferson introduced to America, 
will house a heroic standing figure of Jefferson yet unmade. Presi- 
dent Roosevelt broke ground in December, 1938, and in November, 
1939, laid the cornerstone, saying, on the latter occasion: "He lived 
as we live, in the midst of a struggle between rule by the self-chosen 
individual or the self-appointed few, and rule by the franchise and 
approval of the many. He believed as we do, that the average opinion 
of mankind is in the long run superior to the dictates of the self- 

The third project is in St. Louis. The state of Missouri has always 
had a special affection for Jefferson. Even though he narrowly missed 
having a state as namesake, when Jefferson Territory was rechristened 
Colorado, in Missouri Jefferson has received more official honors 
than in his native Virginia. Jefferson, it is not forgotten, bought from 
Napoleon the inland empire of Upper Louisiana, of which St. Louis 
was the capital, and described this commonwealth as "choice country 
with room enough." The St. Louis Exposition of 1904 was held to 
celebrate this Purchase and to honor Jefferson. Missouri's capital is 
Jefferson City, and the statesman's statue rises above the capitol 
steps* In 1883 the University of Missouri asked for, and received 
from the Jefferson heirs, the original tombstone discarded from 
Monticello; it has been ever since the most prized possession on that 
campus. (Some years ago, President Richard H. Jesse of the Uni- 
versity of Missouri caused a furore among loyal Missouri Jeffer- 
sonians when, at a dinner of the Knife and Fork Club of Kansas City, 
he mentioned the old darkey who claimed descent from Jefferson, 
and other "intimate" rumors which Jesse as a Virginian was disposed 
to believe.) From Missouri Jefferson has received many miscellaneous 
tributes: In 1856 the Legislature commissioned the state's best artist, 
George Caleb Bingham, to copy the Stuart portrait of Jefferson for 
the senate chamber of the Capitol. In Missouri oratory, Jefferson's 


name has always carried something of the same finality as Webster's 
in Massachusetts or Lincoln's in Illinois; Senator George Graham 
Vest greatest of Missouri spellbinders and best known for his 
"Tribute to a Dog" once exclaimed, "For myself, I worship no mortal 
man living or dead; but if I could kneel at such a shrine, it would be 
with uncovered head and loving heart at the grave of Thomas Jef- 

In 1931 Jefferson's birthday was made a legal holiday in Missouri. 
The Jefferson Highway, joining Canada and Louisiana, runs the 
length of the state, where an extensive new park has been reserved 
in Jefferson's honor. 

In Jefferson's lifetime the city of St. Louis, in 1824, sent him an 
honorary membership in her Agricultural Society. Later the city set 
up a Thomas Jefferson Museum. Pilgrimages from St. Louis to Mon- 
ticello have been popular. In October, 1901, "the Jefferson Club of 
St. Louis" (organized in 1892, and soon counting 6000 members) 
invited "all those persons who believe in the principles and teachings 
of Thomas Jefferson" to go to Monticello on a chartered train and 
set up a block of Missouri granite near his tomb. On Jefferson's birth- 
day in 1939 some 600 Missourians, headed by their Governor, called 
at Monticello. Early in the Depression, when PWA and WPA funds 
were flowing, St. Louis conceived a monster project to honor Jef- 
ferson the expansionist. Her politicians persuaded Congress to ap- 
point a commissionwhich recommended that a tract of eighty 
acres, in the slums along the St. Louis waterfront, be bought and 
cleared as the site for a $33,000,000 "Jefferson National Expansion 
Memorial/' with a great park, fountains, a dome-capped temple, and 
in the center a huge granite shaft. Today, in the colder light of 
economy, the project "is down to about $9,000,000, and the city of 
St, Louis is paying part of the cost," as Representative Cochran re- 
ported in 1939. Even so, the project was attacked by Congressman 
Schafer of Wisconsin: "The New Deal has strayed far from the 
fundamental principles and policies of government expounded and 
practised by Thomas Jefferson, Our New Deal friends, no doubt, ease 
their consciences by spending millions of dollars to erect a great 
memorial in honor of the man whose principles and policies they 
have repudiated." A park has taken the place of the slums, but the 
fate of the Memorial as planned is still uncertain. 

At all events the cult of Jefferson marches on. He has attracted the 

Thomas Jefferson, The Gentle Radical 345 

the worship of more statesmen and political thinkers than of artists, 
dramatists, and poets. The absence from the halo of Thomas Jef- 
ferson of Washington's military glory, Jackson's rugged picturesque- 
ness, or Lincoln's tenderness and pathos, is responsible no doubt for 
the slower growth of his legend. Jefferson's greatest deeds the 
Declaration of Independence, the abolition of class privilege in Vir- 
ginia, the Louisiana Purchase, the fostering of secular education in 
America grew increasingly less dramatic and pictorial. By no home- 
ly incident, no single gesture, can the maker of myths evoke for every 
man the essence of Jefferson. His appeal is more reflective, more in- 
tellectual. Doubtless this has handicapped the lovability of the man. 
In art, even Jefferson's arch-enemy Hamilton has fared better in 
romantic novels of which Gertrude Atherton's The Conqueror is 
best, in John Drinkwater's play Hamilton, and in statues usually 
found among the marts of trade and finance. But, with his lack of 
glitter and "theatre," and his quiet life unmarked by Hamilton's aura 
of martyrdom, Jefferson is beyond question the greater American 
symbol. The drafter of documents and policies that stand beside the 
well-spring of our national life, Jefferson remains ( as his most schol- 
arly biographer Gilbert Chinard calls him) "the apostle of American- 
ism." He is the first great democrat, the people's friend. The stature 
of no traditional figure has grown taller than his, in the last genera- 
tion. His fame is slow-ripening but solid. Undoubtedly, as John 
Adams said, Thomas Jefferson still survives. 




Adams, Abigail, 39 
Adams, Henry, 264 
Adams, John Quincy, 60 

Bacon, Edmund, 67 
Bennett, Hugh H., 184 
Bernhard, Duke of Saxe-Weimar 

Eisenach, 91 
Biddle, Nicholas, 251 
Boyd, Julian P., 131 
Bryant, William Cullen, 102 
Butterworth, Hezekiah, 221 

Callender, James Thomson, 109 
Chastellux, Francois Jean, 

Marquis de, 33 
Chinard, Gilbert, 140 
Clark, Austin H., 149 
Commager, Henry Steele, 23 

Davis, John W., 117 
Dewey, John, 208 
Dumbauld, Edward, 168 

Gray, Francis Galley, 76 

Hall, Francis, 86 
Hoover, Herbert, 243 

Jefferson, Isaac, 74 
Jefferson Scrapbook, 113 

Kimball, Fiske, 193 

Kimball, Marie, 161 
Koch, Adrienne, 281 

Lee, Lawrence, 226 
Lincoln, Abraham, 235 

Macaulay, Thomas Babington, 260 
MacLeish, Archibald, 228 
Malone, Dumas, 267 
Mayo, Bernard, 299 
Mazzei, Philip, 29 

New- York Evening Post, 112 

Paine, Robert Treat, 99 
Peale, Rembrandt, 97 
Port Folio, The, 103 

Randolph, Thomas Jefferson, 62 

Due de la, 41 
Roosevelt, Franklin D., 246 

Shapiro, Karl, 231 

Smith, Margaret Bayard, 57 

Tate, Allen, 225 
Ticknor, George, 81 

Webster, Daniel, 89 
Wecter, Dixon, 311 
Weld, Isaac, 54 
Wilson, Woodrow, 238